Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Friday, April 14, 2023

No Man's Land 2023, photshoot with Mike South Photography

Group member Matthew Richardson dressed as the Magister Equitum

Photos are from the Magister Militum Facebook page.  They are a re-enactment group focusing on recreating Roman soldiers of the 4th Century AD.  

In the case of this blog it would apply the very early Eastern Empire.

Reenactors are a special kind of crazy. Their devotion to a tiny slice of history is incredible, and the depth of their knowledge is staggering.

Go to Magister Militum

Fantastic group shot of a one-section phalanx

Group member Daniel Kerr dressed as a veteran legionary

Group member Ross Cronshaw dressed as the Magister Militum

Group members Matthew Richardson and Tony Gilligan 
relaxing in camp playing a Roman game

Group member Daniel Kerr displaying the general panoply of a standard heavy infantry legionary, with large oval shiled, spear, sword, and throwing dart as well as full body armour

Group member Callum Mieklem displaying the general panoply of an archer or light infantryman, with a shamm round shield, bow, and sword

Group member Callum Mieklem displaying the general panoply of an archer or light infantryman, with a shamm round shield, bow, and sword

Group member Daniel Kerr displaying the 
equipment of a vexillarius standard bearer

A fun shoot imagining Tony Gilligan as a 
Conan-inspired emperor (Emperor Tonan)

Francis Hagan of The Barcarii, photograph courtesy of MJ WarTog

Group member Ross before the arena display, 
photograph courtesy of Graham Sumner

Magister Militum on parade with VIII Legion Augusta and The Tungrians, photo courtesy of AMHJP Photography

The VIII demonstrate formations and drill, 
photograph courtesy of Mike South Photography

The group at the end of day parade, 
photo courtesy of AMHJP Photography

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Justinian & Theodora were Fiends in Human Form

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

By Procopius of Caesarea
500 - 554 AD
The Secret History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, January 9, 2023

Defender Of A Byzantine Fort Was Decapitated By The Ottomans

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


The Byzantine Empire in the early 1300s.