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 Byzantine Military 


Byzantine fresco of Joshua in a Byzantine soldiers' dress, 10th century


The Strategikon was a military manual,compilled by the Byzantine emperor Maurice (582-602), an invaluable source not only for early Byzantine history but for the general history of the art of war. Describing in detail weaponry and armor, daily life on the march or in camp, clothing, food, medical care, military law, and titles of the Byzantine army of the seventh century, the Strategikon offers insights into the Byzantine military ethos



The Byzantine military had an amazing record of efficiently organizing its relatively small forces. At its peak it probably numbered around 120,000. In the early Byzantine army, the cavalry became more prominent as the legion system disappeared in the early 7th century as it was not effective against the Byzantine arch enemy, the Persians. The legionary system was also ineffective against barbarian cavalry and would frequently depose emperors . To fight them a strong cavalry was needed.



Byzantine Armies 886-1118 (Men-at-Arms)



Heraclius laid the foundation of the theme military district system which would be copied later by the Ottomans in their timar military fiefs when the empire was desperately short on man power . In the themes, soldiers were settled in the district, being paid for service with land .These were under command a Strategoi, a thematic general, who was responsible for drawing up the levies. This was a way to deal with a smaller tax base and place soldiers throughout the empire to maintain order. This was a change from the classic Roman system of a professional army paid with tax revenue . As the Strategoi, were hereditary, the theme system encouraged the growth of the aristocracy whose control over the military units decentralized the government. The theme army were based on the borders,while the another army was based in the capital.The free peasants over time became serfs of the large landholders.The themes became popular and many men volunteered for service in them. The legendary hero of the national epic, Digenis Akritas, was typical of the independent spirit of the theme holders. The shortage of men was also felt in the imperial body guards and more mercenaries were admitted into this corps, most of which were from the Varangians (Russians) and Anglo-Saxons. The Byzantines infantry attacked shield to shield yelling the war cry 'The Cross has conquered!" Each regiment had shirts dyed in the regimental colors .


Byzantine Armies AD 1118-1461


The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society, 1204-1453


The Byzantine Navy




a dromon (runner) usually armed with catapults,Greek fire and manned by 230 oarsmen and 70 marines. the dromon most important warships of the Byzantine navy from the 6th to 12th centuries. They were indirectly developed from the ancient trireme and were usually propelled by both oars and sails. the faster birema resembled a galleon.The fleets of the navy were also supplied from the themes, to encourge men to enter naval service,with an imperial fleet based in Constantinople.The Byzantine was the master of the Mediterranean till the rise of the venetian,Genoese and Turkish navies.The admiral of the fleet was called a drungarius. With the decline of the threat from Russia in the 11th century, the navy was allowed to decline and was never able to compete with the rising power of the Venetians and Genoese.



Greek fire - The Byzantine ultimate weapon


 A small modern reconstruction of a "Byzan Greek Fire Gun" to give an idea how maight work the originals.


The Strategikon was a military manual used by many military leaders, compiled by the Byzantine emperor Maurice (582-602). Maurice introduced many military reforms, including compulsory service for men under 40 and to divide the army into forces.


Much of the Byzantine military focused on the strategy and skill of generals utilizing militia troops, heavy infantry were recruited from Frankish and later Varangian mercenaries. One of the favored books of Byzantine military leaders in the field was the  Strategikon  compilled by the Byzantine emperor Maurice (582-602).Attention was paid to strategy to avoid waste of men and equipment and much use was made of spies.After the collapse of the theme system in the 11th century, the Byzantines grew increasingly reliant on Tagmata troops - a professional standing army . The heavy cavalry were called Kataphraktoi and the light cavalry trapezitae . With the long tradition of Rome and the Hellenistic kingdoms, the Byzantines had some of the best heavy infantry in the early Middle Ages.The Akritoi were militia defenders of the Anatolian borders of the Empire during the age of Turkish expansion.



Constantinople was saved from many assaults by the use of Greek fire, a type of early napalm used in naval battles that could be projected. The Byzantines learned how to make Greek fire in the 7th century. Greek fire was credited with destroying Russia's Prince Igor's 10,000 ship invasion fleet in 941. A shock carrying it overland could cause it to explode, so it was mostly used in naval battles. It was a closely guarded state secret, made by only one family, which died with the after Constantinople fell in 1453. An early gernade, made from clay pots was filled with Greek fire. The last Byzantine emperors turned down the bombards of Urban as too expensive. Urban then provided them to the Ottomans,who used them to smash the walls of Constantinople in 1453.


Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki (270-306), an important Orthodox military saint.




Comneni Dynasty (1081-1204)

     Fall of the Byzantine Empire


The Hippodrome