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, December 15, 2021

Logistics in the Eastern Roman Empire Military

Roman supply cart drawn by two mules with a handler.


"An army marches on its stomach."

Napoleon Bonaparte

To a large degree military historians live in a fantasy world of "Great Men and Great Armies" doing battle and do books and movies accordingly. 

What is often forgotten or ignored is the boring matter of logistics . . . of how those troops were able to get there, of how they were fed and supplied. The fact of the matter is without a strong logistical support system any army would soon be boiling their leather shoes or killing dogs for food.

Strategy and tactics are easy to understand. But the science of equipping and feeding armed forces on campaign is extremely technical, its mysteries understood by only a few initiates. Still more than anything else logistical constraints limit the activities of any army during a war.

For example, in the 19th century the British military had a Land Transportation Corp that at one point had 14,000 men and 28,000 beasts.

The maintenance of Eastern Roman armies and the recruitment and equipping of its military expeditions constituted one of the heaviest burdens on the finances of the Empire. From the 7th to the 12th centuries there is virtually no contemporary evidence of how armies were raised and supplied even though there were numerous campaigns into the Balkans or against the caliphate on the Eastern Front.

The Empire's system of building an extensive and well-maintained road network, as well as its absolute command of the Mediterranean for much of its history allowed the navy to supply troops in widely scattered parts areas and then move men and supplies overland. Forces were routinely supplied via fixed supply chains, and although Roman armies in enemy territory would often supplement or replace this by foraging for food or purchasing food locally.

One historian estimated that a single legion would have required 13.5 tonnes of food per month, and that it would have proved impossible to source this locally.

The methods adopted for equipping and supplying armies crucially affect their fighting ability and potential, as well as the planning and execution of campaign strategy.

By the ninth century, it is clear that the system of recruiting and maintaining soldiers in what had been the field armies of the late Roman state had undergone a radical transformation, producing the pattern of provincially-based and recruited forces referred to as themata.

Themata, is a term for military forces based in the provinces.

At the height of the process of provincialized recruitment and maintenance of troops during the eighth and first half of the ninth centuries, there is plenty of evidence to show that voluntary recruitment to both elite and provincial forces, compulsory levies in the provinces, and the attraction of non-Byzantine mercenaries co-existed, and were invoked according to the requirements of the moment.

According to the treatise on military expeditions compiled by the magistros Leo Katakylas, and referring almost certainly to the campaign practice of the emperor Basil I, it is noted that the prôtonotarios of each thema through which the imperial force passes must provide certain supplies in kind.  

If this is not sufficient, then the prôtonotarios should obtain the necessary produce from the eidikon - - - which fulfilled the dual function of imperial treasury and storehouse. As a treasury, it stored various precious materials such as silk or gold, and was responsible for the payment of the annual salaries (rogai) of officials of senatorial rank. As a storehouse, the eidikon controlled the state factories producing military equipment (the late Roman fabricae) and was responsible for supplying the necessary matériel for expeditions, ranging from weapons to "sails, ropes, hides, axes, wax, tin, lead, casks" for the fleet or even Arab clothing for the imperial spies.

According to these sixth-century regulations, the provincial officials are to be given advance notice of the army’s requirements in foodstuffs and other goods, which are to be deposited at named sites along the route of march.  

The materials, food supplies and other requirements demanded by the provincial authorities on behalf of the central government were referred to as embolê, and meant simply that part of the regular tax assessment owed by each tax-payer (whether an estate, an individual peasant freeholder, or whatever) not paid in coin.     

Exact records of the produce supplied by the tax-payers as embolê, were to be kept and reckoned up against the annual tax owed in this form; if more supplies were provided than were due in tax, then the extra was to be supplied by the tax-payers, but this was then to be paid for, at a fixed rate established by the appropriate state officials, out of the cash revenues already collected in the regular yearly assessment of that particular province.  

If the provincial treasuries in question had insufficient local cash revenues left over to pay for these extra supplies, then they were to be paid for instead either from the general bank of the praetorian prefecture, in other words, the coemptio was still applied; or they were to be collected anyway and then their value (at the prices fixed by the state) deducted from the following year’s assessment in kind.

An example of the Roman Navy bringing in troops 
and setting up a supply chain to support inland operations.

In the ninth and tenth centuries, is similar: the thematic prôtonotarios is to be informed in advance as to the army’s requirements, which are to be provided from the land-tax in kind and the cash revenues of the thema and stored at appropriate points along the route of march. An exact account of the supplies is to be kept, so that (where the thematic tax-payers provided more than their yearly assessment demands) the amount can be deducted (from the assessment for the following year).

It is clear from these texts that the basic fiscal mechanisms in the sixth and the ninth centuries were almost identical:  the terminology had changed, and the administrative relationships between the different departments responsible for the procedure was slightly different, but in essentials the later system was very obviously derived from the earlier.  The process by which the evolution of the later process out of the earlier occurred nicely illustrates the degree of systemic continuity between late Roman and middle Byzantine practices.

Armies were usually accompanied by a supply-train;  the late tenth-century treatise on campaign organization stipulates a basic supply of 24 days’ rations of barley for the horses, which according to other sources was similarly to be put aside by the thematic prôtonotarios for collection by the army en route; and historians’ accounts of campaigns frequently mention the baggage-train or the supplies and fodder it carried. 

Smaller units clearly foraged for their own fodder and supplies, whether in enemy territory or on Roman soil, which must have caused some hardship to the communities affected; while once on hostile terrain the commander must either have arranged to keep his supply-lines open by detaching small units to hold key passes and roads, or let the army forage for all its requirements once the supplies had run out.

Leo VI advised generals to carry sufficient supplies with the army and to forage on enemy territory rather than prey upon the citizens of the Empire;  the need to avoid harming the provincials by permitting the army to forage and extract supplies without proper administrative controls is often repeated.

The average length of a day’s march for infantry or combined forces was probably rarely more than twelve – fourteen miles. The distances at which supply dumps could be established or stops made to feed and water men and animals was also directly related to the distance covered in a day’s march.

American Civil War. A military supply wagon train entering Petersburg VA. Getting food and supplies to the front-line troops was just as important as leadership. 

In the fifth century, it was recommended that soldiers be trained to carry a load of up to sixty Roman pounds (about 42.3 lbs./19.6 kilos). In the late sixth century Stratêgikon, which also recommends that cavalry soldiers carry three to four days’ supply with them in their saddle bags.

Rations were consumed on a three-day rotation in the late Roman period: bucellatum (hard tack) for 2 days in 3, bread for 1 day in 3, salt pork for 1 day in 3, mutton for 2 days in 3, wine and sour wine on alternate days; as well as a number of additional substances such as fish, cheese and oil, depending on context and availability. The amount (weight) of such rations varied, but the figure of 1 lb. (11.28 oz/327 g) of meat and/or 2 – 3 lbs (1.41 lbs/654 g – 2.1 lbs/981 g) of bread per diem per man given in one document for stationary troops seems to have been standard into the seventh century in Egypt

This campaign ration would give the maximum sixty-(Roman) pound load per man for about twenty days; although under normal marching conditions much of the individuals’ supplies would be transported by pack-animal or wagon, as noted above.   

A fifteen-thousand man army would thus require a minimum of some 900,000 (Roman) lbs. (i.e. 634,500 lbs or 288,400 kilos) of provisions, excluding drinking water/wine and necessary ‘extras’, such as lard and/or oil, cheese or fish, and so on, and not including fodder for the horses and the pack-animals, for a period of between two and, in exceptional cases, three weeks.       

Assuming an average rate of march for infantry and cavalry together of between twelve and fourteen miles per day in good conditions (an optimistically high figure compared with the majority of known military marches from pre-industrial contexts), such a force could thus travel some 240-280 miles in a three-week march, which provides a very crude guide to the distances at which supply dumps would have had to be established in advance.   

This figure is confirmed by the tenth-century treatise on campaign organization, which notes that ‘it is not feasible, in turn, for an army to transport more than a twenty-four days’ supply of barley from its own country for its horses’, which suggests the recognized maximum period for a cavalry force

We may conclude that major supply dumps were needed at stages of approximately 200 – 250 miles, although under very good conditions and with smaller numbers imperial forces may have moved more rapidly than this and needed re-supplying less frequently; fast-moving cavalry forces will have been even less demanding, although ample fodder and water will have been essential.

The Roman Navy was of major importance in the endless campaigns against the Arab Muslims, the Normans and Slavs. Roman troops and supplies often needed to be moved over huge distances to Africa, the Balkans or Italy. 

Travelling across Anatolia presented a number of difficulties, even before entering hostile territory.   From Constantinople as far as Dorylaion, which at 792 m above sea-level is situated near the northern limit of the Anatolian plateau, fodder will have been relatively easily obtained.  Thereafter, as Crusader accounts make clear, armies will have had to carry much of their provisions and fodder with them until they reached the more fertile region around Ikonion.

Horses and mules were raised from a variety of different sources.   If the imperial household was involved, then all the main state departments, the leading civil and military officers, the metropolitanates and the monastic houses of the empire had to provide a certain number of mules or other pack-animals to transport the household and its requirements.   For regular non-imperial campaigns the main sources for the army were imperial stud-farms in Asia Minor requisitions from the estates of the Church,  requisitions from secular landholders; and the soldiers themselves, who either brought their own animals or were required to purchase their requirements on the market using their salaries and campaign payments.

There is no evidence to suggest that the pattern of administration of expeditionary forces changed very markedly between the later tenth and later eleventh centuries.   We can assume that preparations were made as before, informing thematic officials of the necessary requirements, which had to be prepared in advance ready for the army to collect, and that supplies provided were set against the annual tax demand for the region in question.

The imposition required by local districts of billeting and feeding soldiers and officers, grinding corn and baking bread, and providing extra supplies for units passing through or based in a district, providing craftsmen and artisans for public and military works, burning charcoal, providing labor for the maintenance or construction of roads and bridges, had existed from Roman times and are still found, sometimes under slightly different names, in the eleventh century.   But in addition, from the middle of the seventh century and certainly by the tenth and eleventh centuries a group of new impositions had evolved, including the provision or fabrication of weapons and items of military equipment.

The fiscalised strateia was still collected by state officials as a further source of revenue for the maintenance of the armies; so that it is not correct to suggest that the registers of thematic stratiôtai were entirely neglected – it was from these that the regular tagmata of the themes were recruited, and upon the basis of which the fiscalised strateia was also extracted.   By the time of the Mantzikert campaign, however, and as a result of imperial neglect and reductions in military salaries, the regular or Roman tagmatic forces recruited from each thema were reduced in number and poorly equipped: emperors had not taken to the field themselves for many years, and the revenues from the strateiai had been employed for other than military expenditures.

The basic requirements for the organisation of military expeditions and campaigns in the eleventh century remained the same as in the preceding centuries.  What changed were the conditions under which those requirements had to be met.

A World War I soldier drives an escort wagon through water logged fields and roads. Note the spare wheel carried behind the driver; attrition of vehicles was high.

In the campaign against the Turks conducted by Romanos IV after his accession, the regular entrenched camps, the accompanying supply-train and the supplies carried with the army are all referred to.   Such supplies were raised by the various fiscal and military officials mentioned in the exemptions granted to monastic landlords.   In Byzantine territory, and presumably when the army arrived in a district which was not warned in advance, troops were sent out to purchase corn and other requirements from the local populations.

For the Mantzikert campaign,  Romanos could raise as many as some 60,000 men in all, according to a recent estimate.  He seems also to have been able to rely on the traditional means of raising and distributing supplies for his troops while they were en route to confront the Seljuk forces, although the arrangements did not always work especially well:  Attaleiates notes that the troops, and the foreign mercenary forces in particular, caused considerable damage to the region around Krya Pêgê.   

His supply train was considerable, as the presence of a large number of wagons with siege equipment appears to testify, suggesting that the central armories, the local provincial officials and the commanders of the army were able effectively to co-operate on the traditional pattern for the provisioning and equipping of the imperial troops.   Once in territory which had been in hostile hands, however, he was forced to forage for provisions: the Franks under Roussel de Bailleul based near Chliat were ordered to seize the harvested crops; the troops from Theodosioupolis were ordered to provide two months’ supplies for themselves; and Matthew of Edessa notes that some 12,000 troops were sent towards Abkhazia to find supplies.

The military treatises of the tenth century and the historians’ accounts of many of the campaigns of this period show that foraging for supplies was one of the most risk-laden activities which the commander had to organize – failure to guard against surprise attack, on the one hand, and the failure of the foragers to locate and secure adequate provisions could prove disastrous.

The later tenth- and eleventh-century sources the documents suggest that a wide range of state impositions on the rural population was maintained to ensure the adequate arming, equipping and provisioning of troops.

The synônarioi,strateutaichartoularioi of the themata, and many others such as epoptai, are referred to, officials responsible for raising the supplies needed for the army, for registering or raising the soldiers in each province, and related issues.   Their existence illustrates the continued effectiveness of the central authorities in extracting resources for its troops.    Some of the letters of Theophylact of Ochrid, referred to already, mention these officials and their exactions.   

It was these officials who will have been responsible for the arrangements made by Alexios in the 1090s for the passage and provisioning of the Crusader forces, arrangements whose success demonstrates the continued efficiency of the imperial military and provincial administration in catering for its armies at this time.

There were enormous demands made upon the ordinary population of the empire when a military expedition was undertaken. This required an administrative structure which could deal with all facets of the armies’ needs, whether in terms of raising and equipping new recruits or in respect of supplying the vast number of men, horses, mules and other animals which an army on the march needed. 

What is evident, and important to recognize, is that the basic structures which had evolved by the late Roman period retained their relevance in the early and middle Byzantine period; but it is also apparent that those structures continued to evolve and to develop in response to the changed context.

(deremilitari.org)    (weaponsandwarfare.com)   (Military of ancient Rome)

(brynmawr.edu)    (military-history.fandom.com)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Justiniana Prima - Roman Fortified City

Remnants of the city of Justiniana Prima

Defending The Roman Balkans
The City-Fortress of Justiniana Prima

In the centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire it is hard to believe that there were any people at all left in Central Asia - - - just about every tribe imaginable marched southwest and invaded the Eastern Roman Empire.

By the year 500AD the entire northern bank of the Danube from Belgrade to the Black Sea was occupied by one Slavic tribe or another. Why these tribes showed up no one knows. But in their desire for loot, slaves or land they put mounting pressure on the Roman frontier. Two of the earliest Slavic tribes were the Antes and the Sclaveni.

Justiniana Prima was one of the many fortified cities founded by the Emperor Justinian to help stabilize the Balkan frontier. The city existed from 535 to 615 near modern Lebane in southern Serbia. The city served as the metropolitan seat of the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, that had jurisdiction over the provinces of the Diocese of Dacia.

The city was a completely new foundation in honour of the nearby village of Tauresium, the birthplace of Justinian. According to Procopius Bederiana, the birthplace of Justinian's uncle and mentor Justin I was nearby.

Justinian himself ordered the foundation of the city by law in 535, establishing the Archbishopric of Justiniana Prima, making it at the same time the capital of the prefecture of Illyricum instead of Thessaloniki (although this is disputed among historians). 

Justinian made sure that this city, which was one of his favorite projects, received all the necessary support.

"He therefore built a wall of small compass about this place in the form of a square, placing a tower at each corner, and caused it to be called, as it actually is, Tetrapyrgia. And close by this place he built a very notable city which he named Justiniana Prima, thus paying a debt of gratitude to the home that fostered him. In that place also he constructed an aqueduct and so caused the city to be abundantly supplied with ever-running water. And many other enterprises were carried out by the founder of this city - works of great size and worthy of especial note. For to enumerate the churches is not easy, and it is impossible to tell in words of the lodgings for magistrates, the great stoas, the fine marketplaces, the fountains, the streets, the baths, the shops. In brief, the city is both great and populous and blessed in every way."
Procopius' description of Justiniana Prima in The Buildings.

The town was abandoned at around 615. Invading Avars coming from north of the Danube may be one factor, missing political interest in the town after the time of Justinian may be another. 

Recreation of Justiniana Prima

Contemporary Historian Procopius:

Thus did the Emperor Justinian fortify the whole interior of Illyricum. I shall also explain in what manner he fortified the bank of the Ister River, which they also call the Danube, by means of strongholds and garrisons of troops. 

The Roman Emperors of former times, by way of preventing the crossing of the Danube by the barbarians who live on the other side, occupied the entire bank of this river with strongholds, and not the right bank of the stream alone, for in some parts of it they built towns and fortresses on its other bank. However, they did not so build these strongholds that they were impossible to attack, if anyone should come against them, but  they only provided that the bank of the river was not left destitute of men, since the barbarians there had no knowledge of storming walls.  

In fact the majority of these strongholds consisted only of a single tower, and they were called appropriately "lone towers," and very few men were stationed in them.  At that time this alone was quite sufficient to frighten off the barbarian clans, so that they would not undertake to attack the Romans.  But at a later time​ Attila invaded with a great army, and with no difficulty razed the fortresses; then, with no one standing against him, he plundered the greater part of the Roman Empire.  

But the Emperor Justinian rebuilt the defences which had been torn down, not simply as they had been before, but so as to give the fortifications the greatest possible strength; and he added many more which he built himself.  In this way he completely restored the safety of the Roman Empire, which by then had been lost.

A recreation of a "single tower" Roman fortification.

Justiniana Prima in 1937. Photo archive of the 
Military Geographical Institute of Serbia.

Justiniana Prima

Endless Slavic tribes pounded the Roman 
fortifications in the Balkans.

The Collapse of the Roman Empire
By 650 AD (map above) the Balkan Roman frontier was in complete collapse with Slavic tribes advancing all the way to southern Greece. 

The first appearance of the Slavs in the Eastern Roman Empire can be dated no earlier than the 6th century. Throughout this century, beginning with the reign of Justinian, Slavs repeatedly invaded the Balkan possessions of the Empire. Not until the reign of Maurice, however, did any Slavs settle in these territories. Between the years 579-587 there took place the irruption of several barbarian waves led by the Avars, but consisting mostly of Slavs. The latter came in great numbers, and, as the troops of the Empire were engaged in the war with Persia, they roamed the country at will.

Slavs devastated Illyricum and Thrace, penetrated deep into Greece and the Peloponnesus, helped the Avars to take numerous cities, including Singidunum, Viminacium (Kostolac), Durostorum (Silistria), Marcianopolis, Anchialus, and Corinth, and in 586 laid siege to the city of Thessalonica, the first of a series of great sieges which that city was destined to undergo at their hands. What is more, they came to stay.

(Procopius Buildings)    (unesco)    (Justiniana)

(panacomp.net)    (justiniana-prima.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Military Theme of Anatolic


Eastern Roman Reenactor
The thick felt cap wrapped with a turban, worn with the thick padded coat and high boots was considered basic but adequate battle gear. Likewise the axe was minimum regulation weaponry.

First themes: 7th–8th centuries  

The massive Arab invasions forced major changes in the Eastern Roman military.  At some point in the mid-7th century, probably in the late 630s and 640s, the Empire's field armies were withdrawn to Anatolia, the last major contiguous territory remaining to the Empire. The armies were assigned to the districts that became known as the themes.

For 500 years the Eastern Roman heartland of Anatolia was ground zero for endless invasions by Arab Muslim forces and counter attacks by Roman troops.

At the heart of the battle against Islam was the Anatolic Theme, more properly known as the Theme of the Anatolics, was an Eastern Roman theme (a military-civilian province) in central Asia Minor

From its establishment, it was the largest and senior-most of the themes, and its military governors (stratēgoi) were powerful individuals, several of them rising to the imperial throne or launching failed rebellions to capture it. 

The theme and its army played an important role in the Arab–Byzantine wars of the 7th–10th centuries, after which it enjoyed a period of relative peace that lasted until its conquest by the Seljuk Turks in the late 1070s.

Initially, the Anatolic Theme included the western and southern shores of Asia Minor as well, but by c. 720 they were split off to form the Thracesian and Cibyrrhaeot themes.

Under Theophilos (r. 829–842), its eastern and south-eastern portions, facing the Arab frontier zone and including the forts that guarded the northern entrance to the Cilician Gates. 

The theme's capital was Amorium, until the sack of the city by the Abbasids in 838. After that, it was probably transferred to the nearby fortress of Polybotos.

The themes or thémata were the main military/administrative divisions of the Eastern Roman Empire. They were established in the mid-7th century in the aftermath of the Slavic invasion of the Balkans and Muslim conquests

The first themes were created from the areas of encampment of the field armies of the East Roman Army, and their names corresponded to the military units that had existed in those areas.

Click to Enlarge
The Roman Empire in 650 under Constans II.  The Anatolic Theme would have been created roughly about this time.  Arab forces had captured Syria and Egypt.  The themes in Asia Minor were created to organize defenses against the Arabs.

According to the 10th-century Arab geographers Qudama ibn Ja'far and Ibn al-Faqih, the Anatolic Theme, "the largest of the provinces of the Romans", fielded 15,000 men, and contained 34 fortresses. 

It and its military governor, or stratēgos, first attested in 690, ranked first in precedence among the theme governors. As such, the "stratēgos of the Anatolics" was one of the highest in the Empire, and one of the few posts from which eunuchs were specifically barred. 

The holders of the post received an annual salary of 40 pounds of gold, and are attested as holding the senior court ranks of patrikiosanthypatos, and prōtospatharios. In addition, they were the only ones to be appointed to the exceptional post of monostrategos ("single-general"), overall commander of the Asian land themes.

The exact date of the theme's establishment is unknown. Along with the other original themes, it was created sometime after the 640s as a military encampment area for the remnants of the old field armies of the East Roman army, which were withdrawn to Asia Minor in the face of the Muslim conquests

The Anatolic Theme was settled and took its name from the Army of the East. The theme is attested for the first time in 669, while the army itself is mentioned, as the exercitus Orientalis, as late as an iussio of Justinian II in 687.

The thematic capital, Amorium, was also a frequent target of the Arabs. It was attacked already in 644, captured in 646, and briefly occupied in 669. The Arabs reached it again in 708 and besieged it without success in 716, during their march on Constantinople. 

Map of the Eastern Roman-Arab frontier zone in southeastern Asia Minor, with the major fortresses.

The tide of the Arab attacks ebbed in the 740s, after the Byzantine victory at the Battle of Akroinon and the turmoil of Muslim civil wars. Under Emperor Constantine V (r. 741–775), the Anatolics spearheaded the Roman campaigns into Arab-held territory. This in turn provoked the reaction of the Abbasid Caliphate, which in the quarter-century after 780 launched repeated invasions of Roman Asia Minor. Thus the Anatolics suffered a heavy defeat at Kopidnadon in 788, and Amorium was threatened again in 797. 

In the early years of the 9th century, Cappadocia was the focus of Arab attacks, which culminated in the great invasion of 806 led by Caliph Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809) himself, which took Heraclea Cybistra and several other forts.

The late antique urban fabric suffered considerably from the Arab attacks and the concomitant decline of urbanization, but most of the cities in the interior of the theme, i.e. in Phrygia and Pisidia, survived, albeit in a reduced form. The cities of eastern Cappadocia which bordered the Caliphate were practically destroyed.

With new Roman settlers moving east Arab raids were often absorbed there, and seldom reached the Anatolic Theme's territory.

Apart from the Caliph's great invasion against Amorium in 838, some attacks penetrated into the Anatolics' territory are reported for the year 878, when the thematic troops successfully defended Mistheia, and again in 888, 894 and 897, always in the southeastern portion of the theme around Iconium.

The first Turkish attack on the theme is recorded in 1069, when the Turks attacked Iconium. Most of the province was overrun by the Turks after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, with Iconium becoming the seat of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in the 12th century. 

The last appearance of the Anatolic Theme in the historical sources is in 1077, when its stratēgosNikephoros Botaneiates, proclaimed himself emperor (Nikephoros III, r. 1078–1081). 

The Romans managed to recover some of the western and northern portions of the theme in the subsequent decades under the Komnenian emperors, but the Anatolic Theme was never reconstituted.

Click to enlarge
Amorium, capital of The Anatolic Theme
Artist's impression of the Roman Lower City at Amorium in ca. A.D. 800, showing the bathhouse and wine-making installations (by Tatiana Meltsem). © The Amorium Excavations Project.  (metmuseum.org)
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Because it faced the forces of the Caliphate during its first centuries of existence the Anatolic Theme was the most powerful and most prestigious of the themes.

Its very power, however, also meant that it was a potential threat to the Emperors.

As early as 669 the thematic army revolted and forced Constantine IV (r. 668–685) to re-install his brothers, Heraclius and Tiberius as his co-emperors, while in 695 a former stratēgosLeontios (r. 695–698), usurped the throne from Justinian II (r. 685–695, 705–711), and in 717 the then stratēgosLeo the Isaurian, became emperor (Leo III, r. 717–741) after deposing Theodosios III (r. 715–717).

The Anatolic Theme served as the base for several bids for the throne in later centuries as well: the failed revolt of Bardanes Tourkos in 803 was followed by the successful proclamation of Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820) by the Anatolic troops in 813, and the large-scale rebellion of Thomas the Slav in 820–823. 

In the 10th century, however, the theme appears on the sidelines of the rebellions of the period. The next and last rebellion by a stratēgos of the Anatolics was that of Nikephoros Xiphias in 1022, against Basil II (r. 976–1025).

(Anatolic)    (Amorium)

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Battle of Myriokephalon - Seljuks vs Romans (1176AD)

Late Roman / Eastern Empire dart throwing infantry.
While uniforms and armor varied over the centuries the basics changed very little.

A Declining Roman Empire?

Maybe Not.

The Battle of Manzikert in 1071 has always been the point in time historians say marked the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire.

But is that true?

The Roman Republic and Empire had recovered again and again from military defeats. In this article we see over 100 years after Manzikert that the Roman Army was still able to mount major campaigns against the Turks in Anatolia, in the Balkans, in Italy and in Egypt. The Romans held their lands and even expanded.

In my view the "decline" of the Eastern Empire had a lot more to do with the treachery of the Crusaders in 1204 and their sack of Constantinople. The sack of the city happened only 28 years after this battle.


Between 1158 and 1161 a series of Roman campaigns against the Seljuk Turks of the Sultanate of Rûm resulted in a treaty favorable to the Empire, with the Sultan recognizing a form of subordination to the Roman Emperor.

Immediately after peace was negotiated the Seljuk sultan Kilij Arslan II visited Constantinople where he was treated by Emperor Manuel I Komnenos as both an honored guest and an imperial vassal. Following the Sultan's visit there was no overt hostility between the two powers for many years.

BOTTOM LINE - The Turks badly wanted to expand over to the coast, but they took one look at the Roman Army and declined to take action.

The Romans took advantage of this peace to expand their power. 

Emperor Manuel I Komnenos pursued an energetic and ambitious foreign policy. In the process he made alliances with Pope Adrian IV and the resurgent West. He invaded the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, although unsuccessfully, He was the last Eastern Roman emperor to attempt reconquests in the western Mediterranean

In the East, the Emperor recovered Cilicia from local Armenian dynasts and managed to reduce the Crusader Principality of Antioch to vassal status.

The passage of the potentially dangerous Second Crusade through his empire was adroitly managed. Manuel established a Roman protectorate over the Crusader states. Facing Muslim advances in the Holy Land, he made common cause with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and participated in a combined invasion of Fatimid Egypt. Manuel reshaped the political maps of the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, placing the kingdoms of Hungary and Outremer under Roman hegemony.

While the Romans were rebuilding their power so were the Turks. 

Kilij Arslan used this peaceful period to destroy the Danishmend emirates of eastern Anatolia and also eject his brother Shahinshah from his lands near Ankara. Shahinshah, who was Manuel's vassal, and the Danishmend emirs fled to the protection of Rome. 

In 1175 the peace between the Empire and the Sultanate of Rûm fell apart when Kilij Arslan refused to hand over to the Romans, as he was obliged to do by treaty, a considerable proportion of the territory he had recently conquered from the Danishmends.

Both side moved to a new war.

Strengthening the Economy

Here is a good spot to review the growing power of the Romans.

Former money changer Michael IV the Paphlagonian (1034–41) assumed the throne in 1034 and began the slow process of debasing the gold coins

The debasement was gradual at first, but then accelerated rapidly. about 21 carats (87.5% pure) during the reign of Constantine IX (1042–1055), 18 carats (75%) under Constantine X (1059–1067), 16 carats (66.7%) under Romanus IV (1068–1071), 14 carats (58%) under Michael VII (1071–1078), 8 carats (33%) under Nicephorus III (1078–1081) and 0 to 8 carats during the first eleven years of the reign of Alexius I (1081–1118).

Under Alexius I Comnenus (1081–1118) the debased solidus (tetarteron and histamenon) was discontinued and new gold coinage of higher fineness (generally .900-.950) was established, commonly called the hyperpyron.

Income to the Roman Treasury is a vital measurement of the strength of the state.

The exact amount of annual income the Roman government received, is a matter of considerable debate, due to the scantiness and ambiguous nature of the primary sources. The following table contains approximate estimates.

YearAnnual Revenue
3059,400,000 solidi/42.3 tonnes of gold
4577,800,000 solidi
5188,500,000 solidi
5335,000,000 solidi
54011,300,000 solidi/50.85 tonnes of gold
5556,000,000 solidi
5658,500,000 solidi
6413,700,000 nomismata
6682,000,000 nomismata
7751,800,000 nomismata
7752,000,000 nomismata
8423,100,000 nomismata
8503,300,000 nomismata
9594,000,000 nomismata
10255,900,000 nomismata
11505,600,000 hyperpyra
13031,800,000 hyperpyra
13211,000,000 hyperpyra

Click to enlarge map
A map of the Roman Empire showing the location of Myriokephalon.

The Empire Was NOT in Decline

With 20-20 hindsight historians jump on the decline of the Empire side.

To me three factors show the Empire was not in decline: 

  1. The improved Roman political and military position in the Balkans and in the East; 
  2. The improved value of the nation's gold coins; 
  3. And the steady growth since 775 AD on (above chart) tax income to the treasury.

Yes there were problems, but when did problems not exist for any nation?

While not at a peak of power it is fair to say the Empire had recovered from Manzikert and was growing its power.

A Mamluk soldier by Carle Vernet, 1822.
Mamluk translated as "one who is owned", meaning "slave", is a term most commonly referring to non-Arab, ethnically diverse Muslim slave-soldiers and freed slaves to which were assigned military and administrative duties.

The Roman Army

All sources agree that the Emperor gathered an exceptionally large army to teach the Turks a lesson.

One historian puts Manuel's army at around 35,000 men. The number is derived from the fact that sources indicated a supply train of 3,000 wagons accompanied the army, which was enough to support 30,000–40,000 men.  

The army may have contained 25,000 Roman troops with the remainder composed of an allied contingent of Hungarians sent by Manuel's kinsman Béla III of Hungary and tributary forces supplied by the Principality of Antioch and Serbia.

The main division of the army consisted of the eastern and western Imperial Tagmata Regiments. The vanguard was mostly infantry with some cavalry units. The right wing was largely composed of Westerners led by Baldwin of Antioch (Manuel's brother-in-law). 

Then we have baggage and siege trains. The Roman left wing, led by Theodore Mavrozomes and John Kantakouzenos; then comes the Emperor and his picked troops; and finally the rear division under the experienced general Andronikos Kontostephanos.

The Seljuk Army

Modern historians have estimated that the various Seljuk successor states (such as the Sultanate of Rum) could field at most 10,000–15,000 Turks. 

This is likely a closer estimate for the possible Seljuk strength at Myriokephalon considering the much larger and united Seljuk Empire fielded around 20,000–30,000 men at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. 

The Sultanate of Rum was much smaller territorially than the Seljuk Empire and probably had smaller armies, for example, its army at the Battle of Dorylaeum in 1097 has been estimated at between 6,000–8,000 men.

The Seljuk army consisted of two main sections: the askars of the sultan and of each of his emirs, and an irregular force of Turkoman tribesmen. The askari (Arabic for 'soldier') was a full-time soldier, often a mamluk, a type of slave-soldier though this form of nominal slavery was not servile. 

They were supported by payments in cash or though a semi-feudal system of grants, called iqta'. These troops formed the core of field armies and were medium to heavy cavalry; they were armored, and fought in coherent units with bow and lance. 

In contrast, the Turkoman tribesmen were semi-nomadic irregular horsemen, who served under their own chieftains. They lived off their herds and served the sultan on the promise of plunder, the ransom of prisoners, for one-off payments, or if their pasturelands were threatened. These tribesmen were unreliable as soldiers, but were numerous, and were effective as light mounted archers, adept at skirmish tactics.

The Battle - September 17, 1176

The Emperor assembled the full Imperial army and marched against the Seljuk capital of Iconium. Manuel's strategy was to prepare the advanced bases of Dorylaeum and Sublaeum, and then to use them to strike as quickly as possible at Iconium.

The battle took place near Lake Beyşehir.

Speed may have been the goal, but Manuel's army of 35,000 men was large and unwieldy. According to a letter that Manuel sent to King Henry II of England, the advancing column was ten miles long.

The Turks destroyed crops and poisoned water supplies to make Manuel's march more difficult. King Arslan harassed the Roman army in order to force it into the Meander valley, and specifically the mountain pass of Tzivritze near the fortress of Myriokephalon.

IMPORTANT - Just outside the entrance to the pass at Myriokephalon, Manuel was met by Turkish ambassadors, who offered peace on generous terms. The Sultan saw a Roman army perhaps three times the size of his own force and offered peace.

The mistake came from the Roman leadership. Most of Manuel's generals and experienced courtiers urged him to accept the offer. The younger and more aggressive members of the court urged Manuel to attack, however, and he took their advice and continued his advance into a narrow pass.

The lack of forage, and water for his troops, and the fact that dysentery had broken out in his army may have induced Manuel to decide to force the pass regardless of the danger of ambush.

Manuel made serious tactical errors, such as failing to properly scout out the route ahead. These failings caused him to lead his forces straight into a classic ambush.

Maria of Antioch with Emperor Manuel I Komnenos

In this matter the Emperor, at a minimum, acted foolishly to pass up a peace proposal and acted recklessly to march a 10 mile long army column into a narrow pass that was not properly scouted.

The Roman vanguard was the first to encounter King Arslan's troops. They went through the pass with few casualties, as did the main division. Possibly the Turks had not yet fully deployed in their positions.

The Roman divisions sent their infantry up onto the slopes to dislodge the Seljuk soldiers, who were forced to withdraw to higher ground. The following divisions did not take this precaution, also they were negligent in not maintaining a defensive formation of closed ranks and they did not deploy their archers effectively.

By the time the first two Roman divisions exited the far end of the pass, the rear was just about to enter; this allowed the Turks to close their trap on those divisions still within the pass.

The Turkish attack, descending from the heights, fell especially heavily on the Roman right wing. This division seems to have quickly lost cohesion and been broken, soldiers fleeing one ambush often running into another. Heavy casualties were sustained by the right-wing and its commander, Baldwin, was killed.

The Turks then concentrated their attacks on the baggage and siege trains, shooting down the draught animals and choking the roadway.

The left-wing division also suffered significant casualties and one of its leaders, John Kantakouzenos, was slain when fighting alone against a band of Seljuk soldiers.

The remaining Roman troops were panicked by the carnage in front of them and the realization that the Turks had also begun to attack their rear. The sudden descent of a blinding dust-storm did nothing to improve the morale or organization of the Roman forces, though it must have confused the Seljuk troops also.

At this point, Manuel seems to have suffered a crisis of confidence and reputedly sat down, passively awaiting his fate and that of his army.

The Emperor was eventually roused by his officers, re-established discipline and organized his forces into a defensive formation; when formed up, they pushed their way past the wreck of the baggage and out of the pass.

Debouching from the pass they rejoined the unscathed van and main divisions, commanded by John and Andronikos Angelos, Constantine Makrodoukas and Andronikos Lampardas. Whilst the rest of the army had been under attack in the pass the troops of the van and main divisions had constructed a fortified encampment. The rear division, under Andronikos Kontostephanos, arrived at the camp somewhat later than the emperor, having suffered few casualties.

The night was spent in successfully repulsing further attacks by Seljuk mounted archers. Niketas Choniates states that Manuel considered abandoning his troops but was shamed into staying by the scathing words of an anonymous soldier and the disapproval of a shocked Kontostephanos. However, this would appear to be hyperbole on the historian's part as Manuel would have placed himself in much greater danger by flight than if he remained in the midst of his army. 

The following day, the Turks circled the camp firing arrows; Manuel ordered two counterattacks, led by John Angelos and Constantine Makrodoukas respectively, but there was no renewal of a general action.

Eastern Empire reenactors. The headwear shows the 
influence of the Arabs they fought for centuries.


The Roman siege equipment had been quickly destroyed, and Manuel was forced to withdraw – without siege engines, the conquest of Iconium was now impossible.

Both sides had suffered casualties, though their extent is difficult to quantify. Modern historians have postulated that about half of the Roman army was engaged and around half of those became casualties.

As the Roman army moved back through the pass after the battle it was seen that the dead had been scalped and their genitals mutilated, "It was said that the Turks took these measures so that the circumcised could not be distinguished from the uncircumcised and the victory therefore disputed and contested since many had fallen on both sides."

Also the Seljuk Sultan was keen for peace to be restored as soon as possible; he sent an envoy named Gabras, together with gifts of a Nisaean warhorse and a sword, to Manuel in order to negotiate a truce. As a result of these negotiations, the Roman army was to be allowed to retreat unmolested on condition that Manuel destroy his forts and evacuate the garrisons at Dorylaeum and Sublaeum in the Roman-Seljuk borderlands.

However, despite Kilij Arslan's protestations of good faith, the retreat of the Roman army was harassed by the attacks of Turkoman tribesmen. This, taken with an earlier failure by the sultan to keep his side of a treaty signed in 1162, gave Manuel an excuse to avoid observing the terms of this new arrangement in their entirety. He therefore demolished the fortifications of the less important fortress of Sublaeum but left Dorylaeum intact.

The defeat at Myriokephalon has often been depicted as a catastrophe in which the entire Roman army was destroyed. Manuel himself compared the defeat to Manzikert.

In reality, although a defeat, it was not too costly and did not significantly diminish the Roman army. Most of the casualties were borne by the right wing, largely composed of allied troops commanded by Baldwin of Antioch, and also by the baggage train, which was the main target of the Turkish ambush.

In a message to Constantinople the Emperor: "Then extolled the treaties made with the sultan, boasting that these had been concluded beneath his own banner which had waved in the wind in view of the enemy's front line so that trembling and fear fell upon them." 

It is notable that it was the sultan who initiated peace proposals by sending an envoy to Manuel and not the reverse. The conclusion that Kilij Arslan, though negotiating from a position of strength, did not consider that his forces were capable of destroying the Roman army is inescapable. A possible reason for Kilij Arslan's reluctance to renew the battle is that a large proportion of his irregular troops may have been far more interested in securing the plunder they had taken than in continuing the fight, thus leaving his army seriously weakened.

The limited losses inflicted on native Roman troops were quickly recovered, and in the following year Manuel's forces defeated a force of "picked Turks". John Komnenos Vatatzes, who was sent by the Emperor to repel the Turkish invasion, not only brought troops from the capital but also was able to gather an army along the way. Vatatzes caught the Turks in an ambush as they were crossing the Meander River; the subsequent Battle of Hyelion and Leimocheir effectively destroyed them as a fighting force. 

This is an indication that the Roman army remained strong and that the defensive program of western Asia Minor was still successful. After the victory on the Meander, Manuel himself advanced with a small army to drive the Turks from Panasium, south of Cotyaeum.

Manuel continued to meet the Seljuks in smaller battles with some success, and concluded a probably advantageous peace with Kilij Arslan in 1179. However, like Manzikert, Myriokephalon was a pivotal event and following it the balance between the two powers in Anatolia gradually began to shift, and subsequently, the Eastern Empire was unable to compete for dominance of the Anatolian interior.

This image by Gustave Doré shows the Turkish ambush at the pass of Myriokephalon. This ambush destroyed Manuel's hope of capturing Konya.

Click to enlarge map

(Manuel I Komnenos)    (Byzantine economy)    (Byzantine coinage)

(Myriokephalon)    (Mamluk)

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