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Equipment, numbers, and tactics;
with an account of
some of its campaigns and battles

And a long digression on the power and range of the

composite recurve bow and the importance of archery.


Canberra Australia
June 2010

Above: A modern image based on a famous miniature of

emperor Basil II, r. 976-1025. His corselet is made of
gilded iron lamellar armour.


Introduction Error: Reference source not found

Scientific Warfare and its Opposite Error: Reference source not found

PART ONE: THE ARMY OF LEO VI IN 907 Error: Reference source not found

TROOP TYPES: CAVALRY Error: Reference source not found

The Use of Archery by Romano-Byzantine Armies Error: Reference source not
Eastern Recurve Composite Bows compared with the Simple Longbows of the Later
West Error: Reference source not found
The Range of Composite and Other Bows Error: Reference source not found
Killing Distances of Bow Types and Sizes Error: Reference source not found
The Value of Archers Error: Reference source not found
INFANTRY TYPES IN AD 907 Error: Reference source not found
Unit Sizes and Battle Formations in AD 907 Error: Reference source not found


Error: Reference source not found

Military Land Holdings Error: Reference source not found

The Infantry Square, Heavy Pikes and Super-Heavy Cavalry Error: Reference
source not found
The New Lamellar Armour Error: Reference source not found
CAVALRY AFTER 944 Error: Reference source not found
INFANTRY AFTER 944 Error: Reference source not found

PART THREE: NUMBERS ENROLLED Error: Reference source not found

Size of Romaic Field Armies Error: Reference source not found

Examples of large Field Armies and Marine Expeditions in this period Error:
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Reference source not found

Logistics and Numbers at Poson 51

The Rus’ marine attack on Constantinople, 941 57

The Conquest of Crete, 960-61 61

The Battle of Kleidion or Belasitsa or Campu-lungu, 1014 72

SOURCES AND REFERENCES Error: Reference source not found



“Archery is a great weapon and an effective one, especially for use

against the Saracens and Turks [sic: Magyars]. . . . Foot archers
[are] their special dread, since the bow of the infantry archer is
larger and carries further than that of the horsemen.”

“Since archery has been wholly neglected and has fallen into
disuse among the Romans [Byzantines], the many present reverses
are wont to take place.”

- Emperor Leo VI, ‘the Wise’, r. 886-912. The latter statement

was something of an exaggeration.

“When he [the soldier-emperor John I Tzimiskes, born ca 925] shot

an arrow, he aimed so well at the target that he could make it pass
through the hole in a ring.”

- Leo Diaconus, VI.3: trans. Talbot & Sullivan p.146.

Emperors 886-1025:

886-912: Leo VI ‘the Wise’

913-14: Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus, regent for Constantine VII
914-20: Empress-mother Zoë Carbonopsina, regent for Constantine VII
920-44: Romanus I Lecapenus, co-emperor with Constantine VII
944-59: Constantine VII ‘Porphyogenitus’, ruling alone
959-63: Romanus II
963-69: Nicephorus II Phocas, co-emperor with Basil II
969-76: John I Tzimisces, co-emperor with Basil II
976-1025: Basil II, ruling alone


This paper deals with the land forces of Byzantium, or as it is better called,
the Christian Roman Empire of the Greeks [Gk: Basileia ton Romaion]. I have
dealt with the Byzantine naval and marine forces elsewhere (O’Rourke 2009).
I have mostly used today’s adjective ‘Byzantine’ (“bìzz’n’teen”, not “bai-
zaen-tyne”) but occasionally also “East-Roman”, “Romaic” and
“Rhomaniyan”, to remind us that medieval Byzantium, although it spoke
Greek, was the continuator of the unfallen Roman Empire.

* * *
To set the scene, it is useful to enumerate the neighbours of Byzantium in AD
925. As will appear in Part IV, many of these neighbours were also enemies.
We will proceed anticlockwise, beginning in Eastern Europe. The territory
of [1] the Bulgar Khanate or ‘Bulgarian Empire’—its ruler had assumed the
cheeky or defiant title of Tsar in 913—still lay on both sides of the lower


Danube River. Byzantium ruled the lower third of today’s Bulgaria. To the
west, in eastern Dalmatia, Byzantium had a short border with [3] several
Serbian chiefdoms, some of whose people were still pagan. The empire ruled
both sides of Adriatic mouth: Greece and southern Italy.
In Italy, the Empire ruled ‘the Boot’ (Calabria and Puglia) along with a few
outposts in [4] mainly Muslim (pre-Kalbid) Sicily. Sicily was nominally subject
to the Fatimid Caliphate of NW Africa but in practice was ruled independently
by the Kalbidi dynasty, also called “Kalbids”, from 947 (Note 1). The empire’s
other neighbours in Italy were [5] the several “Lombard” (Latin or Romance)
principalities in Campania.
All of modern-day Greece was Byzantine, except for [6] Crete, which was
ruled by an independent Muslim emirate (Note 2). Thus enemy ships
routinely contested control of the two exits from the Aegean: west past the
Peloponnesus to Italy and east past Rhodes to the Levant.
All of Asia Minor was East-Roman, with the Christian-Muslim border at the
Taurus Mountains. Cilicia—the mainland north of Cyprus—and southern
Armenia were part of [7] the giant Abbasid Caliphate whose seat was at
Baghdad (Note 3). In the NE, the empire abutted two small Christian realms:
[8] Armenia and [9] Iberia (which in later centuries would become Georgia).
Western Armenia was divided between the Empire, the Caliphate and two
independent Armenian kings.
Finally Byzantium held part of the Crimean peninsula, which it shared with
[10] the Patzinak or Pecheneg Turks.

Note 1: By 1000 the the Fatimid Caliphate had expanded eastwards and
its seat was in Egypt.

Note 2: The Byzantines conquered Crete in 961 and Antioch in 969 (as
described later in this paper).

Note 3: During the 900s the Abbasid empire dissolved into a group of
lesser, but still powerful states. The Buyids, a Shi’a Persian line, ruled
ex-Abbasid Baghdad from 934. The Hamdanids, a Shi’a Arab line,
created an independent emirate based on Aleppo in 944.

States and Populations in AD 1000 [selected]

State Proxy (area, Population in Major cities

location) AD 1000
(millions) and

Data from
McEvedy & Jones

(Muslim) Buyid Modern Iraq x 3 6 [3rd] BADHDAD, Shiraz,

Emirates (Iraq Isfahan, Rayy, Basra,
and western Wasit


(Muslim) Modern Syria x 2 3 [7th if counted Mosul

Emirates of as a group]
Diyarbakir and

(Christian) 2/3 Caucasia 0.30 (none)

Kingdoms of
Armenia, Iberia
and Abasgia

Fatimid Algeria, Tunisia, 9 [1st] Mecca, Damascus, Cairo,

Caliphate Libya, Egypt, Alexandria, Kairouan,
Palestine/Israel and Palermo

Byzantine 1/5 Italy + 4/5 8 [2nd] CONSTANTINOPLE,

(Roman) Greece + 1/2 Antioch
Empire Bulgaria + 80% of

‘West 35% of the Balkans 1.4 [9th] (none)


Kingdom of 120% of modern 0.6 (none)

Hungary Hungary

Principality of 3/5 of Russia-in- 2.4 [8th] (none)

Russia Europe

German Empire 4/5 Germany + 40% 4+ [5th] (none)

modern Italy

Kingdom of 3/5 of modern 3.9 [6th] (none)

France France

Kingdom of 90% of modern 1.35 [10th] (none)

England England and Wales

Umayyad 80% Iberia, 2/3 5 [4th] CORDOBA, Fez, Seville,

Caliphate Morocco Toledo

Point to notice: Three of the four strongest states were Muslim.


The Imperial Army

Like that of Alexander the Great, the Byzantine army was a “combined-arms”
army in which firepower, infantry and cavalry are integated or used in
combination. The highly professional army of Constantinople was focussed
around cavalry: lancers or pike-cavalry and horse-archers, typically wearing
mail or (by AD 900) “lamellar” body-armour(*), who were well supported by
infantry. Romanian (‘Greek’) generals understood the intelligent use of pike-
infantry and foot-archers as well as cavalry charges.

(*) Lamellar: made of metal platelets that point upwards.

The tactics, equipment and size of the Rhomaioi army in the 9th and early 10th
centuries were little different from those established by emperor Maurice in
the late 6th century. This is clear from the Taktika or military manual
prepared in c.903 or c.907 by or for emperor Leo VI ‘the Wise’, d. 912, and
the works of Arab writers such as Kodama or Qudamah ibn Ja’far, c.932.
Qudamah, a Christian who embraced Islam, served as a tax accountant at
Baghdad and wrote a book discussing the postal and tax systems of the
Abbasid Caliphate and other states. Two further sources are: Ibn
Khurdadhbih, an eighth-century Persian, director of the postal and


intelligence service in Iran; and al-Yaqubi, an Armenian who in the ninth

century wrote a Book of Countries.
As noted later, important tactical innovations were introduced after 944,
although equipment remained much the same: see Part II.

Like their ancestors the antique Romans, the Byzantines dug camp every
night, surrounding it with a ditch and palisade. Details survive of the order in
which the tents of the different units were to be laid out, the distances
between them, the system employed for establishing watches and picket
lines, passwords and camp security, and so on (Haldon 1997).
This fact alone distinguishes them from all other medieval armies (Leo
Diac., trans. Talbot & Sullivan p.187; Haldon 1999:152).

New-Roman (Greek) tactical methods were highly developed, adapted

according to the strengths and weaknesses of each enemy nation. And, at
the strategic level, there were elaborate contingency plans for the mobilising
of the Asian themes [provinces] to participate in an invasion of Muslim
territory (Browning p.131, citing Constantine Porphyrogenitus and others).

Scientific Warfare and its Opposite

The Byzantines saw themselves as cautious and careful, seeking to fight only
when the timing or terrain suited them. The Greeks fought with disciplined
order in separate units which by organisation and drill were readily able to
manoeuvre on the battlefield. Latin methods of warfare were very different.

From Emperor Leo VI’s Tactica, c.907: “The Franks (*) and Lombards (Italians)
are bold and daring to excess, though the latter are no longer all that they
once were. They regard the smallest movement to the rear as a disgrace, and
they will fight whenever you offer them battle. When their knights are hard
put to it in a cavalry fight, they will turn their horses loose, dismount, and
stand back to back against very superior numbers rather than fly.
So formidable is the charge of the Frankish chivalry with their broadsword,
lance and shield, that it is best to decline a pitched battle with them till you
have put all the chances on your own side. You should take advantage of
their indiscipline and disorder; whether fighting on foot or on horseback, they
charge in dense, unwieldy masses, which cannot manoeuvre, because they
have neither organisation nor drill” (emphasis added).

(*) This term does not mean specifically the French; it was a general
label for the Italo-Germans of N Italy, Provencals and Burgundians, etc.

Unlike the ‘Franks’, the East Romans had inherited the discipline of Antiquity:
they formed up carefully and they fortified their camp every night with a
ditch and palisade (Leo Diac. IX: 1).
Appropriate tactics against the Franks included flank and rear attacks and
feigned retreats: “Tribes and families [among the Franks] stand together, or
the sworn war-bands of chiefs, but there is nothing to compare to our own


orderly division into battalions and brigades. Hence they readily fall into
confusion if suddenly attacked in flank and rear – a thing easy to accomplish,
as they are utterly careless and neglect the use of pickets and vedettes
[scouts] and the proper surveying of the countryside. They encamp, too,
confusedly and without fortifying themselves, so that they can be easily cut
up by a night attack. Nothing succeeds better against them than a feigned
flight, which draws them into an ambush; for they follow hastily, and
invariably fall into the snare” (thus Leo).

The Franks were to be worn down and, when convenient, bribed: “. . .

perhaps the best tactics of all are to protract the campaign, and lead them
into hills and desolate tracts, for they take no care about their commissariat,
and when their stores run low their vigour melts away. They are impatient of
hunger and thirst, and after a few days of privation desert their standards
and steal away home as best they can. For they are destitute of all respect
for their commanders, - one noble thinks himself as good as another, - and
they will deliberately disobey orders when they grow discontented. Nor are
their chiefs above the temptation of taking bribes; a moderate sum of money
will frustrate one of their expeditions. On the whole, therefore, it is easier and
less costly to wear out a Frankish army by skirmishes, protracted operations
in desolate districts, and the cutting off of its supplies, than to attempt to
destroy it at a single blow.”




By this time cavalrymen no longer carried both bow and lance as they had in
the Sixth Century. Horsemen specialised either as archers or as lancers
armed with the kontarion or long thrusting spear. The two types were
brigaded together. The thematic (provincial) cavalry formed up in units five
deep: the first two ranks were lancers, then two ranks of archers [40% of the
unit] and finally another rank of lancers.


The predominant cavalry weapon was a very long thrusting or poking lance or
light pike, called a kontarion or kontos: some 12 feet or 3.7 metres long
according to Heath 1979: 34 (or longer: Dawson 2007b:61 offers four
metres). It was typically wielded with both hands.
The sword was the longish spathion of up to 36 inches: 85-90 cm, less
commonly suspended from the belt than hung from a baldric or transverse
shoulder strap: “in the Roman fashion”, as Leo says in the Taktika, VI.2.
When worn on a baldric, the sword hung vertically by the leg; belted swords
hung nearly horizontally.
One depiction of the spathion—in a soapstone carving reproduced in
Dawson 2007b:19—allows it to be deduced as 85 cm long from the pommel
to the tip of the blade. Parani, 2003:131, citing the Sylloge Tacticorum [Gk
Syllogê Taktikôn] (s.38) says infantry swords were 94 cm or “0.936” metres
[sic: 36 inches] long from pommel to point. Cavalry swords, she says, could
be a little longer: up to 110 cm or 43 inches.
For comparison, Frankish (Carolingian) spathae were usually between 90
and 100 cm in length, of which the blade represented some 75-80 cm
(Couplan 1990).
The Byzantines also used the war mace: not only as a striking weapon as
it was principally used, but also as an effective throwing weapon. The Tactica
of Leo shows that the tzikourion (the throwing axe), the bardoukion and the
matzoukion (two types of maces) were employed as throwing weapons. Leo
states that the cavalry mace should have a spiked head of iron. The head
featured spiked projections designed to produce serious wounds. The shaft,
normally of wood, was between 60 and 80 cm long according to Kolias, cited
by D’Amato 2008.

The cavalry shield was typically round and medium-size: diameter about 30
inches or 75 cm (up to 101 cm/40 inches if we follow Haldon 1999:131). Kite-
shaped shields would not become common until the late 900s.
In Leo’s Taktika and the later Syll. Tact., the round shields of the cavalry
range from “0.936” metres [sic: 36 inches or three feet; the over-specificity is
just the result of Parani’s literal translating into metric] to “1.053” metres
[sic: 3.5 feet or 42 inches] high (Parani p. 132). Shields seem to have become
a little larger during the century: Nicephorus Phocas’s [Nikêforos Fôkas]
Praecepta Militaria or ‘Composition on Warfare’ of ca. AD 965 (text in


McGeer) refers to cavalry shields of around 105 cm.

Leo’s Taktika also mentions a small ‘target’, a round mini-shield attached
to the upper arm, of some 12 inches or 30 cm, presumably more commonly
used by the horse-archers.

Above: Byzantine ivory casket with a contemporary illustration of soldiers or

nobles hunting [Troyes Cathedral treasury]. Points to notice: Lamellar
corselets; knee-high boots; recurve bow (left); slashing sword (spathion,
right); round shield. The headress of the figure on the left is a toupha, the
crested crown or helmet worn during a triumph.

(1). Armoured cavalry:

These troops wore iron helmets with ‘aventails’ (neck protectors), usually of
lamellar iron, or a hood of mail under the helmet. The predominant body
armour was laced lamellar, (*) usually of iron platelets [Gk: petala], although
scale armour and mail were also in use. Lamellar: metal platelets that point
upwards. Scale: overlapping metal platelets that point downwards (illustrated
in Dawson 2007b).

(*) After about AD 940 lacing was replaced by the method of rivetting
the platelets to a leather backing strip. See discussion later of the New

The lamellar or scale corselet (klibanion, plural klibania) reached only to the
waist and was either short-sleeved or even sleeveless whereas mail extended
to the mid-thigh and elbow. Sometimes a sleeveless lamellar corselet would
be worn over a sleeved mail tunic, so providing double protection. Pteruges
or leather thongs or strips provided upper-arm protection.
The troops were required to keep their klivania (klibania) with their laced


iron platelets polished so that they were “glittering and bright” (Taktika,
quoted by Dawson 2003, Levantia Historical Guide).
Some cavalry also wore splinted lower leg armour (greaves) of bronze
(Haldon 1999:131), but high leather boots seem to me more common in the
pictorial sources.

GO HERE: http://www.geocities.com/egfroth1/Joshua1.jpg for a wall-painting

(fresco) from the 11th C in which lamellar armour is well depicted. The fresco
is in the monastery of Hosios Loukas near the town of Distomo in today’s
central Greece.

(2) Light javelin-cavalry:

There were also unarmoured cavalry called “trapezitoi”, carrying two or three
nine-foot or 2.75 metre javelins [Gk: akontion; see in McGeer] as well as a
kontarion and sword (Heath 1979: 38).
Parani proposes, citing the later Syll. Tact., that javelins were up to “2.81”
m long [sic: just over nine feet] (Reconstructing the Reality of Images, 2003:
139) .

(3) Horse archers:

Heath says that the same bow was used by both cavalry and infantry, namely
the 45-48 inch [1.1-1.2 metre] “Hunnic” composite bow. This is an error. Leo
says expressly that “the bow of the infantry archer is larger and carries
further”. That the infantry bow was larger than the cavalry bow is also stated
in later 10th C sources, e.g. the Sylloge, cited by McGeer p.213.(*) Parani
2003: 141, citing the Sylloge, say that bows were “1.17-1.25 metres” long –
meaning cavalry bows.
Leo says that horse-archers should not carry any shield; but it seems likely
that they did in practice carry, or wear, small ‘targets’ of about 12 inches or
30 cm on their upper arm (Heath 1979: 8).

(*) The trade-off between pull-weight, arrow-weight and bow-length is

complex, but in simple terms: maximum range can be attained by a
short, stiff bow shooting a very light arrow, while maximum killing
power at medium ranges was attained by a long bow driving a relatively
heavy arrow. To make the same point another way: the velocity of the
arrow (imparted by the bow) is the key variable [E = 0.5 m x v2 or
energy = 0.5 mass by velocity squared]. Also if one is riding a horse, a
short bow is much easier to manage.

Length of bows, nock to nock:

160 cm or 63 in: one Mongolian bow measured by Paterson in Archers of

Islam. Full references follow later.
147 cm or 58 in: largest bow listed in Latham & Paterson’s Saracen Archery,
London 1970.
147 cm or 58 in: one “Tartar” bow tested by Pope.
134 cm or 53 cm: upper limit for the length of a Turkish bow (Ozveri).


127 cm or 50 in: the length recommended by the medieavl Egyptian writer

Taybugha (Paterson loc.cit.).
127-124 cm or 50-49 in – median of the lengths in Saracen Archery.
125 cm or 49 in: typical Turkish war bows (Ozveri).
125-117 cm or under 49 inches: Romaic cavalry bows, McGeer p.213 and
Parani p.141, citing the 10th C Sylloge.
122-114 cm or 48-45 inches: Byzantine: Haldon 1999: 131, also citing the
122-119 cm or 48-44 in: typical size of Indo-Persian bows, according to
Paterson. Smallest known type of war bow.
104 cm or 41 in – smallest cited size for a Turkish non-military
‘demonstration’ infantry bow maximized for distance competitions,
conducted on foot (Ozveri).
100 cm: Byzantine infantry bow: “about one metre” or just over 3ft,
according to Dawson 2007b: 24. This does not look at all credible.
90 cm: lower limit for the length of a Turkish bow (Ozveri).

Arrow weights are often quoted in grains, an Imperial measure in which 7,000
grains = one pound.

ARROW Grains Ounces Grams


Very light 300 19

Very light Muslim 332 22

arrow, Crusader
period (***)

Light, in relation 400 0.91 26

to modern game

Typical American 30
Indian arrow, 19th
C (*)

Typical medieval 1.0

Ottoman arrow

Medium, in 500 1.14 32

relation to
modern game

Heavy, in relation 600 1.37 39

to modern game

Very heavy, e.g. 800+ 52+

for hunting Cape



English medieval 60
war arrows (*)

(*) Brian Cotterell and Johan Kamminga, Mechanics of Pre-Industrial

Technology, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p.181.

(**) Payne-Gallwey: cited in full below.

(***) Nicolle, Crusader Warfare: Muslims, Mongols and the struggle against the
Crusades, 2007.

Above: A recurve composite bow. ‘Recurve’ refers to the difference between

its slung and unslung shape. ‘Composite’ refers to its construction from three
materials: sinew, wood and horn.

The Use of Archery by Romano-Byzantine Armies

Composite bows perhaps originated on the western steppes (north of the

Black Sea) among the predecessors of the Scythians before BC 2000. They
had reached Egypt, brought by the Canaanites, already by about BC 1700.
They are regularly mentioned in Homer, the Greeks having adopted the
composite bow from the Scythians.
Alternatively, there was a competing and perhaps autochthonous
Levantine tradition of bow-making that originated in ancient Akkad and
Sumeria around BC 2250 and spread thence to Syria and Egypt (Gabriel &
Metz 1991: 67-69; Westermeyer 1996: 6). The latter was not displaced by the
steppes style until the Huns appeared in the West after AD 350. The steppes
style bow had a strengthened grip (made with “laths”) and stiffened,


lengthened lever-ends or ear-points (bone or ivory “siyah” or “siha”).

The Roman Republic, after BC 53, and then the early Empire used native
Levantine archers, notably Syrians and Cretans, for several centuries, during
which bows were commonly manufactured privately in the East without state
involvement. Then as a result of the reforms of emperor Diocletian, d. 305,
the Roman state established large workshops in Western Europe to
manufacture its own bows and arrows. In the East, local household and
artisanal production continued (Westermeyer 1996: 12ff). But archers formed
a relatively minor part of the Roman army until after AD 450.
It is clear that there were major changes in the 80 years from 450 to 530,
because when we come to the writings of Procopius, fl. 533, we find the
composite bow in service as the major weapon of the Imperial army. Always
adaptable, the Romans had borrowed freely from the Huns. Now the typical
‘Roman’ cavalryman is armed with a bow as well as a lance and there are
large numbers of foot-archers. Archery played a major part in nearly every
battle in the 6th Century, both in the East against the Persians and in the West
against the Goths. Procopius rated Roman (Byzantine) archery as superior to
that of the Persians and equal to that of the Huns. Then in the later 500s,
long wars with another steppes people, the Avars, led the Byzantines to
further improve their cavalry equipment and tactics (Westermeyer 1996: 24
ff, citing Maurice’s Strategikon).
Archery would remain a central element in Byzantine warfare for the next
half-millennium and beyond.

* * *

McGeer, pp.68, 207, says that the Byzantine heavy infantry bow of AD 975
was capable of sending an arrow over 300 metres, with a killing distance of
perhaps 200 metres. The smaller cavalry bows, he says, could shoot arrows
as far as 130 metres, with a killing range of perhaps 80 metres.

As we also noted, John France 1994: 148 proposes that the effective, or
killing, range of a Seljuq cavalry bow of the 11th century was likewise over 60
To repeat: Hildinger has suggested that the “Asian” composite recurve
bow was only accurate at up to 80 yards (75 m) when shot from horseback,
but "shooting in arcade" (at 45 degrees above horizontal) allowed for much
greater ranges. Modern champion archers likewise maintain that one cannot
guarantee a hit on an individual target at more than 80 yards (metres) with
any bow whatsoever, but of course one could always hit a massed army of
thousands of individuals.

It is not clear from Leo VI whether archery was already declining or remained
all-important into the 10th century. His insistence that every East-Roman boy
should learn to shoot could be read as implying that many or most did not
(“wholly neglected and has fallen into disuse”). This too may be indicated by
his order that, in the provinces, every house, or at least every soldier’s
house, is to keep one bow and 40 arrows. On the other hand, if the order was


futile, it would not have been issued. Archery did remain important in East-
Roman armies until at least 1204, and Leo does list bows and arrow first
among the spare weapons that Romaniyan (‘Byzantine’) troops must provide
themselves with (Leo’s Taktika, cited by Toynbee 1973: 315).
Writing later in the century, Phokas recommends that if there are 16,000
infantry, then 4,800 (or 30%) should be archers, while the rest are to be
armed with the kontarion (pike or long spear) (cited in Toynbee 1973: 314).
This may imply that many Romaics were expert archers until well into the
11th century. (I would speculate – I can cite no actual evidence (*) – that
archery remained vital among the native ‘Greeks’ until the Comnenian period
after AD 1100.)

(*) The sons of emperor Alexios I, 1081-1118, were brought up on

archery and hunting (see in Epstein, ‘Cultural Trends’). And Kinnamos
says that prior to the changes made by Manuel I, 1143-80, – who made
the couched–lance charge the key tactic of his armies – bows were very
common in the Byzantine army (cited by Pirani 2003: 141). Indeed
Manuel himself deployed many Byzantine foot-archers on occasion,
albeit that he relied for his horse-archers mainly on Cumans and Turks
(Haldon 1999: 216-217).

Eastern Recurve Composite Bows compared with the Simple

Longbows of the Later West

‘Longbows’, as used for example by the medieval Welsh and English, were so
called to distingush them from crossbows which were relatively short. The
former were made wholly from one straight piece of wood only, typically yew
wood (ash wood was also well regarded).
The English infantry long-bows of AD 1545 recovered from the warship
Mary Rose were mostly longer than a man is tall, namely around 75 to 80
inches or 190-203 cm [6’6” = 198 cm], with heavyish pull-weights of 100-120
lbs (445-534 newtons). Long practice is required to pull 120 lbs easily and
repeatedly, and it is only a really big, highly muscled man who can pull over
150 lbs. Cf 120 lbs for the average of a large collecton of Ottoman recurve
bows (Karpowicz 2007).
‘Recurve composite bows’, as used for example by the Huns, Byzantines
and Turks, were shorter, constructed in bent-forward form (“recurve”) so as
to reverse in shape when strung, and made from several materials (sinew,
wood, horn) glued together. Sinew from the neck tendons of deer and cattle
formed the top or outside of the bow; wood, e.g. mulberry or maple-wood,
the core; and horn, water-buffalo horn or Armenian wild sheep horn, the belly
or inside. The glue was made from boiled fish tendons, the glue being formed
by evaporation to condense it (Westermeyer 1996: 11).

Defeating Armour
The distances mentioned in this discussion are brought together later in a
summary table.

In the table below, the energy required for an arrowhead to defeat various
types of armour is given as the number of joules (J) at contact. The data is


from Alan Williams, The Knight and the Blast Furnace: A History of the
Metallurgy of Armour in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, History of
Warfare, 12. Leiden: Brill, 2003.

By way of introduction, an arrow striking its target with a ‘force’ (energy) of

at least 120 J will pierce both mail and padding. Or even fewer joules: see
Williams’ figures below. A very powerful longbow of 150 lb draw can manage
this when discharged at extremely close range, provided the arrow weighs at
least two ounces. [Cf 120 lbs for the average draw of a large collecton of
Ottoman recurve bows: Karpowicz 2007.] A 3.8 ounce arrow would hit at 146
J fired up close, which is probably enough energy to give a serious wound
through mail. However, past 50 or so yards (metres), the kinetic energy
decreases to point where mail piercing seems unlikely (Williams, citing
Strickland & Hardy’s Great Warbow). But cf tests reported, below, by Rees
At the maximum range of about 175 metres, says Williams, no arrow from
a heavy 150 lb longbow even reaches 100 J and so is not effective in
defeating mail. It would probably take an extra heavy 180 lb longbow, almost
impossible to pull, shooting a heavy arrow, to inflict serious injury on a man
in mail at this range.

The important point to note is that mail offers better protection than thin
plate; but thicker plate - over 1.5 mm - is superior.

(a) To penetrate plate: 40-175 J:

1.25 mm low quality plate armour: 40 J

1 mm mild steel plate (perpendicular impact): 55 J for 45 mm
penetration [45 mm = width of two fingers]
1. 5 mm mild steel plate 110 J (cf reference below to article by Rees
2 mm mild steel plate: 175 J.

(b) To penetrate mail: 80-120 J:

Modern Mail (mild steel) alone: 80 J.

Modern Mail & Jack [i.e. leather coat] Penetration: 100 J
Modern Mail and Tailor's Dummy: 100 J
Modern Mail, Jack Penetration, and penetration to 35 mm [1.38 inches]
of Plastilene (a proxy for a human body) behind: 120 J
15th c. Mail (low carbon steel hardened by quenching) two links broken
and jack behind completely penetrated: 120 J.

In summary, if we follow Williams, ordinary longbows of 440 newton/100 lb

pull (range perhaps 200 metres) were a serious danger to unarmoured troops
and horses, but not to troops wearing mail except at close range: under 50


Rees (1993) reports that it has been calculated that English-style longbows
have an actual maximum range of between 150 and 200 metres – also the
sort of range actually claimed by medieval archers. Further work shows that
the arrows would have arrived at their target at a speed of about 35 metres
per second (130 kilometres per hour) and nearly head-on: at an angle of
about 50 degrees to the horizontal.
What damage, he asks, would be done by 60-gram [2.1 ounce] war arrows
arriving at these velocities? Measurements by Jones and others suggest that,
provided the blow was not too glancing, long “bodkin” arrows (with slim, fine-
pointed heads) travelling at 30 metres per second would penetrate armour
up to only about 1.5 millimetres thick. In other words, on this view, longbows
are dangerous at full range. (The BBC tests cited below would appear to
refute this.) Or to make the same point negatively: bodkins, being fine-
pointed, may be good against mail at fairly close range but they are not
effective against even quite thin plate.
Source: Gareth Rees, ‘The longbow's deadly secrets: . . . What made this
weapon so lethal?’ New Scientist, 5 June 1993, online at
Nobody familiar with the literature will believe that wooden long bows are
especially lethal as such. Their advantage is their rate of fire compared to a
crossbow. And compared to a composite bow, the advantage is their
simplicity, cheapness and speed of manufacture. In other words, they are
best suited to less sophisticated societies. Historically, the more sophisticated
societies have always used composite bows.

The Range of Composite and Other Bows

The data in the following discussion is brought together in a table, below.

In the later 10th century, the Byzantine heavy infantry bow was capable of
sending an arrow over 300 metres, with a killing distance of perhaps 200
metres (McGeer, Dragon’s Teeth pp.68, 207).
For comparison, John France, 1994: 148, proposes that the effective, or
killing, range of a Seljuq cavalry bow of the 11th century was over 60 metres.
See further below for a discussion of modern tests of power and killing

Erik Hildinger broadly agrees with John France. The former has suggested
that the ‘Asian’ composite recurve bow was only accurate at up to 80 yards
(75m) when shot laterally from horseback; but "shooting in arcade" - aiming
upwards at an angle of around 45 degrees - allowed for much greater ranges,
while sacrificing accuracy. —Hildinger 1997. Modern champion archers
likewise maintain that one cannot guarantee a hit on an individual target at
more than 80 yards (metres) with any bow whatsoever, but of course one
could always hit an army of thousands of individuals in close-order formation.

* * *

Datum: Pull-force of 500 newtons* (N) = draw-weight of 112 pounds (lbs).

Almost any grown man can draw a bow of 250 N draw weight. Among
present-day archers, men tend to use bows of 55-65 lbs [245-289 N] and big


and/or very muscular men up to 70 lbs [311 N]. Compare 534 N or 120 lbs for
the average draw of a large collection of Ottoman recurve bows: Karpowicz
2007. But medieval soldiers were much stronger than today’s average urban
dweller and practised regularly.

(*) One newton of force exerted over one metre is one joule of energy.

Adam Karpowicz (2006 and 2007) has tested replicas of medieval Turkish
bows. See at
The bows, made by him, represented draw-weights (or ‘pull-forces’) from a
medium 67.4 lb to a heavy 136 lb; and lengths from 41 inches to 51.5 inches,
i.e. up to 130 cm. Compare 120 lbs/534 N for the average draw or pull-weight
of a large collecton of Ottoman recurve bows; or around 110 lbs excluding
outliers: Karpowicz 2007. For comparison, the English longbows of the 16th
century ‘Mary Rose’ ship had an average draw weight of around 100 lbs (445

Karpowicz (2006) says that medieval flight bows—specifically a 125 lb

(medium-heavy: 556 newtons) ‘flight bow’ (bows maximized for distance)
with a 203 grain [13 gram] arrow—were capable of producing an arrow
velocity of 357 fps [feet per second] = 109 metres per second. In a vacuum,
this arrow would reach a distance of 1,320 yards, or in air around 750
yards/metres. This is in line with known contest-winning records achieved in
Turkey in the later Ottoman period.
Karpowicz claims that the shorter 44in or 1.12 metre Turkish bow is not
only as effective with heavy arrows as the longer bows, but also gives better
performance with light arrows (than longer bows). This would be contrary, he
says, to the common claim that only bows with heavy limbs are capable of
good performance with heavy arrows.
True, a very heavy-pull 150 lb or 667 N longbow launches a 1662 grain
arrow [108 grams; 3.8 ounces] at about 171 fps or 52 metres per second
(146 J), while a somewhat lighter 136 lb (medium) Turkish composite bow
shoots a 1548 grain arrow with slightly more power: 180.4 fps (152 J). It may
be better, however, to rely on the actual experience, cited earlier, of emperor
Leo’s soldiers: they understood that a larger bow sends a standard weight
arrow further than a short bow.
A light-weight 72 lb composite bow can shoot a war arrow at 200 fps, while
the more realistic (for trained medieval soldiers) 125lb+ bows are capable of
around 250 fps [75 metres per second: 270 kilometres an hour]. This would
result, says Karpowicz, in a killing range of well over 50 metres.

It would appear that lighter bows are not quite so effective. Russ Mitchell (in
Rogers et al. 2006: 19 ff) tested the penetration of mail using composite
bows with a draw weight averaging 50 lbs (222 newtons). This draw-weight is
quite modest: cf 120 lbs/534 N for the average draw of a large collection of
Ottoman recurve bows: Karpowicz 2007.
Mitchell’s arrowheads were very low-carbon steel. They were fired from a
range of just 40 metres against a static target covered with mail. Most shots
missed, his archers being amateurs. Of 14 hits, only three arrows [21%], all


‘broad-head’ (non-bodkin) types, penetrated the mail and just one penetrated
right through into the felt padding behind. No bodkin points penetrated the
mail. Mitchell explained this by noting the resilience of the felt backing he
placed behind the mail (perhaps vitiating the experiment; but note our
reference to the felt epilorikon worn by the Byzantines).
He also tested mail with a leather backing in the form of a gambeson. Firing
from 30 metres, with somewhat heavier but still light bows of 55-68 pounds
draw, Mitchell’s archers were able to penetrate the mail in seven-eighths of
all hits [87.5%] and in 100% of hits with bodkin points.
In short, mail is not effective against close-range archery when the bow and
arrow are of the right size and right type.

Killing Distances of Bow Types and Sizes

100 metres = 109 yards. Pull weight: 100 lbs-force = 445 newtons (N).
To easily pull over 70 lbs a modern-day archer needs to be a very muscular
young man or a larger man weighing over 80 kg - thus
www.yeoldearcheryshoppe.com/drawlength.php; also
www.huntersfriend.com/bowselection.htm#10-drawweights. Medieval
archers, however, were professionals and accustomed to constant practice
since childhood and well used to physical exertion; they could easily draw
over 110 lb (Karpowicz 2007).

Datum for range: The longest range targets used in modern Olympic
competitions are placed at 90 metres [100 yards = 91 metres]. A standard
Rugby field is 100 metres long; a standard soccer pitch is 105 metres long;
and an American football field is 110 metres (360 feet) long. The lesser
diameter of the ovoid field of the Melbourne Cricket Ground is 135-140
metres, while the long diameter is some 165 metres. Westminster Bridge in
London is 252 metres long (and the Thames itself 230-260 metres wide at
London Bridge). The central span of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 503
metres. Half a mile is 805 metres. Bondi Beach extends for some 950 metres.

In the table below an asterisk * indicates data derived from modern

experiments, or cited in authoritative medieval texts.

Recurve Long- Remarks

composite bow

Turkish and Mongol heavy *750+ Using very light-weight

infantry bow, maximum metres arrows. Has zero
demonstration range relevance to warfare.
(Note 1):

Presumed absolute 550

maximum range,
Byzantine heavy infantry

The distance to be *528 m Again, zero relevance to


achieved by Turkish flight- (nearly warfare (except perhaps

shooting student to 1/3 of to underline the
demonstrate basic a mile) importance of training
proficiency (Ozveri 2008): and regular practice from
one’s youth).

Old Turkish bow of 440 N *434 m

or 99 lbs pull-force: actual
record from a contest held
in 1910 (French 1998):

Crossbow, indicative value (400

for maximum effective yards)
range (‘Crossbow’ 2008):

Mongol bow, effective 400

range [Note 3]: inflicting yards
wounds on unarmoured
opponents that could be
fatal (according to Hurley
1975: 21, 202): Probably
an over-estimate.

Byzantine infantry *330 A modest figure, and for

bow, maximum m that reason credible.
distance, i.e. not its
killing range (Sylloge,
cited by McGeer pp. 68,
207, 213):

A specific Turkish bow *329 m Very light arrow weight.

shot by Payne-Gallwey:
length 114 cm (small
enough for cavalry) and
pull of 118 lbs or 525 N:
average range of 12 shots
with very light half-ounce
[14 gram] arrows:

Maximum with an English- *305 m = Cf 350 yards: Payne-

style long-bow, medium 334 yds. Gallwey’s medieval
weight arrow of 465 maximum.
grains (30 gms), achieved
by one heavily-built and
well-practised modern
archer (Bickerstaffe):

“Limit of flight distance”, 275 m McGeer offers just 135 m.

Byzantine cavalry bow
(Hyland 1994: 29, citing

Killing distance, Turkish 250+ Perhaps credible if the


infantry (Janissary) bow yards victim was unarmoured

AD 1400: Hurley p.225. and hit in the head or
He claims, which is abdomen.
difficult to believe, that a
man in armour could be
killed at this range:

English longbow; *290 (250- Experimental result. A

maximum range 330 m) heavy-pull 667 N (150
(Strickland & Hardy p.18) lbf) 'Mary Rose' replica
longbow was able to
shoot a largish 53.6 g
(1.9 oz) arrow 328 m
(360 yd) and a massive
95.9 g (3.3 oz) arrow a
distance of 249.9 m (272

Maximum range: one *243-

Turkish bow, 122 cm in 229 m
length, small enough to
be used on horseback;
tested by Pope, fired at

English infantry longbow, *240 In 1590 Sir Roger

limit of effective metres; or Williams said that most
(wounding) range, more like 16th century archers
Stortford 2009: 200 m for could not inflict “any
an average great hurt” at 240 m
archer. [presumably meaning to
an unarmoured man].
The 21st century author
replicates this using a
calculation based around
a pull-force of 700 N (154

“Effective” range, 230 m One imagines this means

Byzantine cavalry bow lightly wounding
(Hyland 1994: 29, citing unarmoured flesh; looks
Bivar): credible given Pope’s
figure for the Turkish
cavalry bow (above).

Maximum ranges of *170-225 m Rees says that medieval

several English-style archers themselves
infantry longbows, 173- typically claimed no
195 cm in length, tested more than 200m for
by Pope (cf BBC 2006 maximum range. Cf
result, below): above: 240 m “no great


Killing distance, 200

Byzantine infantry bow metre
(McGeer): s

Training distance, target 200 m

practice for the army of
Roman Empire in the late
300s AD (Vegetius, De Re
Militari 2.23):

Mongol cavalry bow: 200

range at which ‘European’ yards
armour could be pierced:
Hurley p.21 – meaning
mail; plate was not much
used before AD 1300.

English infantry longbow, 150-200 Rees’s claim is not

maximum range: called metres credible. Compare the
“effective range” (Note 3) (Hurley results of modern
by the BBC, 2006. Rees 1975: 21 experiments, below in
1993 claims a bodkin- says 'nearly this table.
headed arrow could 300 yards').
penetrate 1.5 mm armour
at this range.

Killing distance, 200 m

unarmoured target,
English longbow:

Maximum range: One *160 Perhaps not tightly

“Tartar” bow, 147 cm in sic! strung?
length, tested by Pope,
fired at 45o:

Longbow, limit of ability to 150-175 Cf up to 80 metres from

pierce 1.5 mm plate experiments (below).
armour (McLean; also
Rees 1993). But Williams
proposes that mail can be
penetrated at this
distance only if the long
bow is extremely powerful
(180 lb pull):

Composite bow: Up to Volley fire.

“effective” (potentially 150m
killing) range against
unarmoured men and
horses (Luttwak p.27)

Byzantine cavalry bow: 135

maximum range (McGeer
p.68, citing Bivar 1972):


“Accurate target range”, 120 Not plausible. As noted in

Byzantine cavalry bow the text, no sort of bow is
(Hyland 1994: 29, citing really accurate beyond
Bivar): about 80 metres.

“Armour-piercing” 90 In this table, estimates

range, Byzantine range from 50 m to 90
cavalry bow (Hyland m for the killing distance
1994: 29, citing Bivar): of cavalry composite

Killing distance, 80 Cf below: France’s Seljuq

Byzantine cavalry estimate.
bow (McGeer):

English longbow, bodkin- *80

tipped arrow dents but
does not puncture a
steel breastplate of
unstated thickness;
presumably 2+mm

Limit for one-on-one “hit 75-80 75-80 The most likely minimum
accuracy”, any type of standard for Turkish
bow, including ‘Asian’ archers was to strike a
recurve bow fired from man-sized target from a
horseback: (Note 2) distance of about 60 m
(Klopsteg 2005).

Killing distance, Seljuq 60-70 - Concurs with McGeer

cavalry bow, according (row 21 above) and
to France 1994: 148: Karpowicz (row 25).

Composite bow: piercing Up to 60 m. But cf Dawson’s

range against “most” experimental result of
forms of armour (mail, just 20 m against
scale and lamellar) lamellar armour.
(Luttwak p. 27);
effective rnage of the
ancinet bow (McLeod

Killing distance, heavy- 50-75

pull recurve bow, metres
according to Karpowicz:

Light-pull longbow: limit - 50 Unlikely: cf BBC data

for piercing mail armour, below.
according to Williams:


Light-pull composite *30-40 m Cf Dawson’s result for

bows mostly fail against lamellar, below,
mail armour (Mitchell

English longbow *30

punctures but does not Key datum. Shows the
penetrate through a worth of plate armour.
steel breastplate of
unstated thickness (test
done by BBC):

Medium-pull (82 lbs at *20 m Easier to kill the horse

full 33 inch draw) than the rider wearing
composite recurve bow, lamellar! And at 20 m, if
steel-hardened arrow you are the enemy foot-
point fails against archer, you are …
Byzantine lamellar already dead.
armour (experiment by
Dawson 1998):

English longbow *20

penetrates right through metres
plate armour and
underlying doublet coat
to the flesh (BBC):

* = Data derived from modern experiments, or cited in authoritative

medieval texts.

Note 1: There are good records of 18th century Ottoman foot-archers

shooting as far as 800 yards in non-combat, demonstration mode. They
used a strong bow (160-pound pull) and specially crafted light arrows
(0.5 ounce). Compare Karpowicz’s calculations, cited earlier.

Note 2: Accuracy was not sought; rather armies aimed to deliver an

arrow-storm of many thousands of arrows.

Note 3: Maximum “effective range” can be a vague term. The ‘effective’

bit usually means putting a man out of action. Ordinarily it does not
refer to accuracy. (Accuracy is not very important for the arrow-storm of
medieval armies or the machine-gun barrages of modern armies.) But
when ‘effective range’ is used to mean accuracy, e.g. as applied to
snipers, it defines the range at which a competent and trained individual
has the ability to hit a target (say) 60 to 80 percent of the time. This is
sometimes called the “practical range” of the weapon.
Accuracy can be important when protecting a castle or a ship, from
behind defences. For this a crossbow is by far the better choice due to
its smaller size, greater accuracy and ease of use.
As noted above, no bow of any type is accurate beyond about 75


References for the discussion of archery

l, citing tests at the Royal Military College of Science Testing Ground
at Shrivenham; accessed October 2007.

Pip Bickerstaffe: In the journal Primitive Archer, 9, 2; online (2007) at


A. D. H. Bivar, ‘Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier’,

Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 26 (1972), pp. 271-291.

“Crossbow” 2008: H2G2 guide, accessed March 2008 at BBC:


Tim Dawson, ‘Kremasmata, Kabadion, Klibanion: Some aspects of middle

Byzantine military equipment reconsidered’, Byzantine and Modern
Greek Studies number 22, 1998, pp. 38-50.

John France, Victory in the East: A Military History of the Crusades.

Cambridge, UK, 1994.

M.J. French, Invention and Evolution, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988: chapter

Victor Hurley, 1975: Arrows against Steel: the History of the Bow. New York:

Adam Karpowicz, 2006, at


Adam Karpowicz, 2007: ‘Ottoman bows - an assessment of draw weight,

performance and tactical use’, Antiquity, Sept, 2007. Online 2010 at

P E Klopsteg, 2005: Turkish Archery and the Composite Bow. 4th edition, first
published 1937. Manchester: Simon Archery Foundation. This book is a
translation of an article by Bogenhandwerk & Bogensport: Bei den
Osmanen, Der Islam, 1925: 353, which in turn is a translation of
Mustafa Kani, Telhis Resail er-Rumat, Istanbul, 1847.

J D Latham & W F Paterson, Saracen Archery, London, Holland Pres, 1970: see

Edward Luttwak, 2009: The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. Belknap
Harvard; Cambridge, Massachusetts.


William McLeod, 1965: ‘The range of the ancient bow’, Phoenix 19, 1-14. A
careful reading of many literary sources.

Eric McGeer, 1995: Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth: Byzantine Warfare in the
Tenth Century (Washington, DC).

Russ Mitchell, 2006: ‘Archery vs mail: experimental archaeology and the

value of historical context’, in The journal of medieval military history,
Volume 4. Eds Clifford J. Rogers, Kelly DeVries, John France. Boydell

Murat Ozveri, Turkish Traditional Archery, www.turkishculture.org, accessed


S R Payne-Gallwey, The Crossbow. London, Holland Press, 1976. Originally

published 1907.

W F Paterson, 1966: ‘Archers of Islam’, Jesho IX, 69-87. Online 2010 at


S T Pope, 1923: Bows and Arrows. University of California Press.

Gareth Rees, 1993: ‘The longbow's deadly secrets: English success at the
battle of Agincourt can largely be put down to strips of yew wood
strung with linen. What made this weapon so lethal?’ New Scientist, 5
June 1993, online (2008) at

Matthew Strickland and Robert Hardy, 2005: The Great Warbow: From
Hastings to the Mary Rose (Hardcover). Sutton Publishing.

Stortford [UK] Archery Club, ‘The Physics of Medieval Archery’ by Gareth

Rees; at http://www.stortford-archers.org.uk/medieval.htm; accessed
2009. Quoting the contemporary observer Sir Roger Williams, 1590.

Taybugha, Saracen [Mameluke] Archery, written AD 1368; text ed. by Latham

& Paterson, 1970. Cited in Hyland, Warhorse p.120.

The Value of Archers

Emperor Leo: “Archery is a great weapon and an effective one, especially for
use against the Saracens and Turks [sic: Magyars]”. “Foot archers [are] their
special dread, since the bow of the infantry archer is larger and carries
further than that of the horsemen.” Quoted by Toynbee 1973: 315 and Hurley


Man without Man with armour

armour dead; dead; horse dead:
horse wounded:

Fired by 50 metres: 90 Bivar; 200

cavalry: Karpowicz; 60 Hurley
France; 80 McGeer;
120 or under 230
Bivar; “400” Hurley.

Fired by 200 McGeer, “400” 250+ metres:

infantry: Hurley. Hurley

The figures in the tables above, although they do not always agree, suggest
that probably a soldier carrying a shield and wearing armour would be quite
safe from arrows fired from a cavalry bow at a good distance: beyond say
100 m. But unarmoured light troops could be killed and, importantly, horses
could be wounded by foot-archers at about 200 metres.
In other words, horse-archers would be effective against soldiers wearing
mail only when they had closed on their enemy, i.e. to within perhaps 50
metres. And, if the enemy could deploy enough foot-archers, then horse-
archers would presumably be reluctant to ride very close, i.e. not within
about 150 m . . .
Foot archers would be most effective against cavalry charging towards or
past them: certainly within 100 m; and also when firing an ‘arrow storm’ into
enemy infantry, e.g. from the rear ranks of a Romaic infantry unit moving to
close with enemy infantry.
Against horse-archers from the steppes, e.g. the Magyars, Leo VI advised
that the imperial cavalry should engage quickly without exchanging
preliminary arrow fire; by immediately charging, the Byzantines’ heavier
lancer-cavalry could break them. So too could the Byzantine infantry with
their more powerful bows, which shot further, enabling them to shoot down
the Magyar horses before the Magyars closed (Hyland p.50, citing Oman).


a. Armoured infantry

The main infantry weapon of the East-Romans was the long thrusting spear
or light pike, the kontarion: over 12 feet long or up to 4 metres for the
As with cavalry, the sword was the medium-length 90 cm or 36 inch
spathion. Parani, p.131, citing the Syll. Tact. (s.38), says that infantry swords
were “0.936” [sic!] metres long from point to pommel; this is simply her
exact metric rendering of ‘36 inches’.*


(*) Easily visualised: the same length as today’s standard large


Leo’s Taktika states that only the first two ranks of the skutatoi (‘shield-men’)
wore mail or lamellar corselets – in units formed up eight or even 16 deep.
The other six+ ranks wore the bambakion, a very thick padded and quilted
surcoat of heavy cotton (Heath 1979: 32).(*) It would become nearly
universal after 944: see later in this paper.

(*) Soldiers must have sweated in battle, at least in the south of the
empire: Athens and Antioch/Antakya both have average maximums of
300+ in the hottest months, similar to that of Miami [31.70 in July and
August] and greater than that of Canberra or Sydney [28.00 and 25.90
respectively in January]. Constantinople/Istanbul is warm enough too:
average daily maximum 28.50 in August. (These are present-day values:
we pass over the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ in silence.)

The general infantry shield (skuta) was oval or nearly round: about three by
four feet, 90 cm x 122 cm, according to McGeer (or up to 137 cm/4 ft 6 in if
we follow Haldon 1999: 131). Hence the term for a heavy, or rather
“medium”, infantryman was skutatos, plural skutatoi. The shield essentially
protected the body from shoulder to knee. Quite possibly shields increased in
size later in this century: Phokas writes in the 960s of infantry shields “no less
than [140 cm] but if possible even larger” (in McGeer p.205).
Dawson 2007b: 23 notes that while the manuals say a round or oval shield
might be a large as 90 cm or 35 inches in diameter, they are commonly
depicted as smaller, i.e. as little as 77 cm or 30 in. Tear-drop or almond
shaped shields could be 43 in or 110 cm long but more commonly 37 inches
(95 cm): 95 cm appears both in the manuals and in artworks.

Angus McBride’s illustration, in Dawson 2007b: plate H, shows an heavy

infantrymen with an iron helmet of Phrygian shape: peaked at the front; a
mail coif or cowl to the shoulders; upper arm-guards of lamellar, a long
lamellar cuirass to mid-thigh, and high leather boots reaching above the
knees. The soldier carries a tear-drop shield and a spathion hung on a baldric.

b. Light infantry

Light infantry archers (unarmoured) carried on a baldric a combined quiver-

bowcase of 40 arrows. It was a round-bottomed cylinder with the arrows
inserted point downwards (in contrast to the cavalry quiver).
For the length of an arrow, Haldon 1999: 131 offers 68 cm or 27 inches.
Parani 2003: 141, citing the Sylloge, says “at least” 70 cm or over 28 inches.
The Romaic arrow, because the bow was drawn with the thumb, was
fletched with four feathers. The flights (feathers) were a symmetrical
crescent shape and quite small (illustration in Dawson 2007b; also in
Karasulas 2004: 25).
Foot-archers could be brigaded together in all-archer units or joined in
combined units with spearmen (typically 25% archers, 75% spearmen).


Poisoned arrows: In Leo’s Taktika we learn that the Saracens are better
versed in military science than all other peoples; this information the emperor
knows from generals who have fought them, from reports to preceding
emperors and from his father, Basil I (Leo, Taktika XVIII.123). Also, since the
Arabs make great use of cavalry, the Romans should use poisoned arrows to
kill their horses. The Arabs place high value on these apparently unarmoured
fast-attack horses; if they know that the Byzantines are using poisoned
arrows, they will retreat in order to save their horses, because without the
horses, they cannot save themselves (XVIII.135-136).

Against horse-archers from the steppes, e.g. the Magyars operating in

Bulgaria and Thrace, Leo VI advised that the imperial cavalry should engage
quickly without exchanging preliminary arrow fire; the Byzantines’ heavier
cavalry could break them with their maces and thrusting spears. So too could
the Byzantine infantry with their more powerful bows, which shot further,
enabling them to shoot down the Magyar horses before the Magyars closed
(Hyland p.50, citing Oman). “Archery is a great weapon and an effective one,
especially for use against the Saracens and Turks [i.e. Magyars] . . . Foot
archers [are] their special dread, since the bow of the infantry archer is larger
and carries further than that of the horsemen”, wrote Leo, quoted by
Toynbee 1973: 315. fff
Leo the Deacon (II.2) reports that Leo Phokas used night attacks against
the Magyars, no doubt because this prevented them from using their usual
fast maneouvering.

c. Servants, Groomsmen, Drivers

Carts or wagons were used, although sometimes in the Balkans nearly all the
equipment must have been carried on the backs of pack-mules. One mule-
attendant/servant was assigned to every 16 infantrymen to transport the
tents, provisions and other equipment (including a hand-powered grain-mill)
and munitions such as spare bows, arrows and caltrops (Leo, Taktika, cited
by Dawson 2007b: 45).
One imagines that pack-animals far outnumbered two-wheel carts, with
four-wheel wagons limited to carrying the heaviest items. A pack-mule can
carry no more than 90-100 kg for extended periods (Haldon 1999: 282; Pryor,
in Pryor ed, Logistics of Warfare 2006: 18).
If there were 10,000 infantry, the mule-attendants numbered 625.
Assuming (which is not certain) that each mule required one driver, we have
perhaps 350 pack-mules, 180 cart-mules pulling 90 carts, and 95 wagon-
mules pulling 20 larger wagons . . .

Mobile Artillery

Leo also mentions artillery devices. The fact that they revolved at both ends
or in a circular fashion makes it almost certain that these alakatia were small
traction (rope-pulled) trebuchets. They were probably pole-frame models
that could be transported in wagons, quickly assembled, and operated by one
or a few soldiers, much as depicted in the illustrated Madrid Skylitzes


manuscript (Dennis, 1999, Byzantine Heavy Artillery).

Unit Sizes and Battle Formations in AD 907

Hollywood movies, with their crazed melees, have distorted our

understanding of all modes of warfare. Especially they distort the realities of
the warfare in the period before the gun. We shall therefore look at East
Roman formations in some detail.

In both cavalry and infantry, unit sizes (bandon, plural banda, ‘regiments’)
could range from 200 to 400 men. But the theory said that a cavalry bandon
had 300 men: 180 lancers and 120 archers, six lancers for every four horse-
archers, organized in six allaghia or “winglets”, each of 50 men. The infantry
bandon officially had 256 men: a heavy infantry bandon comprised 192
spearmen (skutatoi) and 64 archers (ratio 3:1 spearmen: bowmen), organized
in 16 subunits of 16 men each. Other units were typically all one type, i.e.
256 foot-archers in a light infantry bandon or ‘arrow regiment’ and 256
spearmen in a guards-infantry regiment or ‘spear bandon’ (Heath Armies
1979: 4).

In Leo’s Taktika, the Thematic (provincial) cavalry are formed up five deep:
the first two ranks were lancers, then two ranks of archers (40%) and finally
another rank of lancers (one bandon = six allaghiai = six x 10 files of five
men = 300). In earlier centuries, the Tagmata (the elite metropolitan
regiments)(*) had drawn up in formations 4-men deep and the thematic
cavalry 8-men deep, with lancers in front and horse archers behind.

Thus the front line of a Tagmatic (central elite) unit if formed of 300 men in
four ranks, was 75 horsemen wide (when four deep: 300/4 =75). The
Thematic cavalry drew up in deeper lines: if formed in ranks five-deep, a
bandon was 60 horsemen wide (300 / 5 = 60).

(*) The Tagmata or standing central regiments, based in and around

Constantinople, were created by emperor Constantine V in the 760s.
The cavalry element (there were also infantry Tagmata) originally
consisted of three regiments or brigades: the Scholae, Excubitors
(Exkoubitoi, “Sentinels”) and the Watch (Vigla). A fourth, the Hicanati
(Hikanatoi, “the Able Ones” or “Worthies”), was added in 810 by
emperor Nicephorus I. A fifth brigade, the Immortals (Athanatoi), who
were cataphracts or super-heavy cavalry, were recruited by emperor
John I Tzimiskes, 969-76. Each had an enrolment of 4,000 men
(Treadgold, Army pp. 36, 66; D’Amato 2007 for the equipment of the

Example One: a mixed army of 18,000 men

The Rhomaioi preferred to assemble their main force in depth – two, and
later, three lines. This enabled the delivery of successive shocks in battle and


discouraged attacks from the rear.

Let us imagine an army of 18,000 men of whom 12,000 are infantry. Let us
imagine again that half the infantry units (6,000 men in about 23 banda) are
allocated to the front line. Further we will imagine a fairly modest density of
eight files, which means ranks of 32 (256 men per bandon = 8 ranks x 32
files). Packed very tightly into a shield-wall formation (half a metre per man),
an infantry bandon of this depth would be just 16 metres wide.
Now we also imagine that two metres are left between each of the 23
banda, e.g. for returning cavalry to ride through. This line of infantry units will
have a front of about 410 metres [23 x 16 = 368 metres pus 42 between
units = total 410].
To complete the picture, we put cavalry on either side of this first line (two
lots of 1,000 men: left and right); and on either side of the second line (two
lots of 1,000: left and right); while the third line is a small all-cavalry line
(2,000 men). Now 2,000 horsemen on either flank of the front line will be 400
horsemen wide if formed up five-deep (2,000/5 = 400). Let us imagine they
are tightly packed, i.e. just two metres per horse. This gives us 800 metres.
We add that to the infantry front, for a combined front of about 1.2

Example Two: a large all-cavalry army of 25,000

There would be about 83 units in a very large all-cavalry expeditionary army

of 25,000. Assuming that as many as 5,000 men would be held aside as
flank-guards and reserves, the main body of such an army would total 20,000
With 67 units deployed (20,000/300 = 67 banda), each of the three lines
might comprise 22 units (67/3 = 22). With each Tagmata unit presenting a
75-horse front, we have a line extending for 1,650 horse-widths (75 x 22 =
1,650). Formed up loosely—allowing three metres per man (*)—the army’s
battle front would have extended for up to five kilometres (1,650 x 3 =
4,950m). In practice, most units would be packed deeper, producing a
narrower front.(**) But in any case, one is looking at a front of several
[My calculations broadly based on data in Heath 1976; also Hyland p.29
and McGeer’s analysis of later 10th century practice.]

(*) Cavalry sometimes formed up so densely that there was only about
one metre per horse, i.e. with stirrup touching stirrup (Hyland 1994: 33).

(**) For comparison, under emperor Manuel Comnenus, in the 1150s,

when on the march, the army extended for some "16 km" (“10 miles”:
Baynes p.73). Dividing by a half, to allow for a three-line battle-
formation (3-2-1: 50% in the front line), its front when formed up must
have extended for up to eight km – in practice probably more like four
km to allow for the tighter formation when formed for battle. And in the
middle period, before Manuel's time, i.e. in AD 950-1050, armies were
generally larger.


Above: Late 10th C Byzantine military dress and equipment. Left to right:
medium cavalry, heavy cavalry and heavy infantry.
Points to note: two shield types including (left) the almond or kite-
shaped type; lamellar armour over mail and the bronze greaves on the
central figure; high boots; baldrics; the long infantry pike. Not shown
here is the epilorikon or thick padded surcoat.

* * *




Military Land Holdings

The main administrative divisions of the middle Byzantine Empire were called
themata or Themes. The local military forces in each Theme or province were
made up of semi-professional soldier-farmers occupying tax-free state
military farms. In return for military service, the farm passed from father to
By the middle of the tenth century, it is clear that considerable numbers of
landed properties which had earlier been classified as adequate to maintain
and provide a soldier had been split up due to inheritance, and that the
various parcels into which the registered holding had since been subdivided
were now responsible for a proportional burden, paid to the local military
administration to support an outsider recruited for the campaign in question
(Haldon 1997). That is, the obligation to serve had been monetised.

A ‘novel’ or decree by Constantine VII issued sometime between 945 and 959
(perhaps March 947) records the value of the military land grants. For
thematic cavalry, the land is to be worth 288 nomismata [gold coins] or four
Roman pounds [litrai] of gold; and for marines, 144 nomismata - two pounds
of gold (Heath, p.5; McGeer Dragon’s Teeth p.200).
Specifically Constantine recommended that thematic cavalry generally,
and marines in the maritime themes of the Cibyrrhaeot, Aegean, and Samos,
have property assessed at 288 and 144 nomismata respectively (although
rates of 360 and 216 nomismata were soon after recommended: cf. De
Caerim. 695). Thus the land of a stratiotes (thematic cavalryman)
corresponded roughly to two zeugaria, the area that could be cultivated
properly with two manned pairs ot oxen.
If a full-revenue soldier had an average property worth 288 nomismata,
one can postulate that a poor one, contributing half that amount, would have,
as an average, half the above property and be supported by one zeugarion.
Oikonomides says that it is hard to imagine a cavalry soldier poorer than that,
as we know that those who became completely destitute were removed from
the regular cavalry and became irregulars ('rustlers', apelatai) or were
assigned to garrisons as footsoldier (citing Lemerle’s Agrarian History, 135).
—Oikonomides, Social Structure of the Byzantine Countryside, at (2009)
Many, probably most, peasants owned property assessed far below that of
theme soldiers. In the Novel of 947, Constantine VII exempted poorer
peasants from repaying the purchase price of their land if their means was
below 50 nomismata, i.e. less than 17.5% of the minimum property
qualification of a thematic cavalryman.

The Infantry Square, Heavy Pikes and Super-Heavy Cavalry

John Kourkouas, General of the Army 923-44, introduced new tactics, building
upon his experience fighting the Abbasid Caliphate in Mesopotamia. He gave


greater importance to lightly armoured foot soldiers.

The new style of fighting is described in a manual written after 954 by the
general and future emperor Nikephoros Phokas.
For the most part, arms and armour remained as they had been in 900,
except for the greater importance attached to the use of the mace by Phokas'
super-heavy cavalry and the use of a heavy pike by the heavy infantry
pikemen. The main change was tactical: the defensive square, the three-line
cavalry formation, and the offensive "smashing-through" role of the super-
heavy cavalry.

The Infantry Square

The infantry formed up in one immense quadrilateral or hollow square, into

which the whole cavalry force could retire. The infantry formed the
anchor and defensive support for the cavalry who were the strike
The infantry square formed up seven deep: two rows of spearmen or light
pikemen, then three rows of archers (43%) and finally two rows of heavy
pikemen or menavliatoi (McGeer, Dragon’s Teeth pp. 182, 259, 262; Dawson
2007b: 62; Luttwak 2009: 312).

An ordinary infantry battalion of 1,000 men - Greek “taxiarchy”, a new name

- was made up of 100 menavlatoi or heavy pikemen; 50% missile-troops: 200
slinger-javelinists and 300 foot archers; and 400 ordinary pike-infantrymen
armed with the kontarion or light infantry lance (McGeer p.203).
McGeer p.273 notes that the proportion of menavlatoi was increased
around 960, possibly in response to the growing numbers of heavy cavalry in
the Islamic armies.

Three Lines of Cavalry

Field armies in the late 10th century sometimes exceeded 40,000 men, of
whom about one-third were cavalry, a similar proportion as in Justinian’s field
armies in the 6th century. In an expeditionary army of about 20,000 the
various types of troops would be represented as set out below: see several
pages on under “Soldiers of the Line”. As will be seen, missile troops - horse
archers, foot archers and slinger-javelinists - numbered 9,800 or nearly half
the total, a higher proportion than under Justinian in the 6th century.

The basic cavalry unit was the new bandon (plural banda) of 50 men, who
formed up five ranks deep. In battle formation 10 banda formed one
formation or regiment (parataxis): this created a 100-horse front (500 = 100
x 5). Lancers were placed in the first two and also the back rows; horse-
archers made up the 3rd and 4th rows, i.e. 40% were bowmen (McGeer p.284;
also Toynbee 1973: 313).
For a cavalry engagement, the Rhomaioi drew up in a three-line formation:
the regiment of cataphracts, introduced c.950, formed a wedge in the centre
of the first line, flanked by ordinary cavalry units. The commander stationed
himself in the middle of the second or reserve line (McGeer pp.281 ff). The
third line, a rearguard, was an innovation of the early 10th century. (Two lines


had been standard since the late Sixth Century: Maurice, Strategikon p.23.)
The third line could also be tasked with conducting a flanking movement to
surround the enemy.
In one of Tzimiskes’ battles, he hid two units of cataphracts behind the first
line, one on each wing. At the decisive moment they rode out and around the
first line and charged into the flanks of the enemy.

Super-Heavy Cavalry

There was just a single unit of up to 500 super-heavy cataphracts (*) (one
parataxis of 10 banda) armed with maces and riding fully-armoured horses:
250 armoured mace-men or sword-men and 150 armoured archers. They
fought in a single large blunt wedge or trapezium 12 rows deep.

(*) Kataphraktoi. Called “iron-clad” (Gk pansideros) by Leo Diac.

Illustration: Excellent reconstruction by Dawson:


Or here for another imagined picture of a super-heavy cataphract:


Other Points

Kourkouas also introduced a new strategy, later perfected by Nikephoros

Phokas, in which the aim was gradually to destroy the resources and supplies
of the enemy. This has been called “patient attrition” (Mitchell 1983: 294).
Fortresses were set up to control main routes, so as to prevent the flow of
supplies, and constant raiding was used to break down the will of the enemy

Training was rigorous. Phokas and Tzimiskes, and no doubt Kourkouas before
them, required their troops to undertake daily drills. Part of the objective was
to increase physical fitness and dexterity with the shield (Leo the Deacon:
Talbot & Sullivan pp.38-39).

The New Lamellar Armour

Tim Dawson writes of a revolution in the design of East-Roman armour that

took place between about 940 and about 1010. A new type of low-weight
lamellar was invented in which the plates were rivetted to a leather backing
strip; laces were now used purely for suspension, i.e. not to bind the platelets
together. The result was a lighter, stronger armour. Or this was the style in
around 1025; in the 1000s riveting was supplanted by four suspension laces
(Dawson 2007b: 63).
"The imperviousness of the klibanion [body armour] explains the anecdote
recounted by Anna Comnena when Alexios [emperor in the late 11th C] took


two charges from Frankish cavalry and was merely pushed partly off, then
back onto his horse without sustaining any injury. Backed by a thick kabadion
[or kavadion: thick-padded tunic], and mail in the case of someone of status,
and covered by an epilorikion, an iron lamellar corselet would be almost
impenetrable". —Dawson, Roman Lamellar 2003: 9; also Dawson 1998.

Soldiers of the Line:

Numbers, Troop Types and Equipment

An ideal army of about 20,000 men would have been made up of the
following troop types. Cavalry were outnumbered 2:1 by infantry (McGeer,
Dragon’s Teeth p.202; also Treadgold 1997: 548).


Note that ideally all the cavalry wore some kind of metal-based armour.

3,600 men: Ordinary cavalry

These were lancers with plain, one-piece low-conical iron helmets that fitted
closely to the shape of the human head. D’Amato 2007: 59, 75 proposes that
helmets were made from one piece of iron and reinforced by a rivetted band
of brass that ran front-to-back from forehead over the top of the head to the
The body armour was a waist-length lorikion or mail corselet and/or a
klivanion or klibanion, the iron lamellar corselet or ‘torso cuirass’. This was
worn under an epilorikon or thick padded surcoat of cotton or coarse silk.
The mail lorikion had sleeves to the elbows, while the lamellar klibadion
was sleeveless. Probably only officers and front line cavalry wore two
corselets (i.e. mail under lamellar). The epilorikon was a heavy padded outer
coat with openings in the armpit which allowed more freedom of movement
than when the sleeves were used.
For more on Romaic armour, see Dawson’s work online at

The lances or light pikes, Greek: “kontos”, were used typically two-handed
for poking, stabbing and thrusting, not for the couched charge as in later
Western armies of the 12th century. The couched charge did not come into
use until the period 1100-1150 (see France p.71; D’Amato 2007: 65).
At this time shields were of various shapes: round, oval and kite-shaped.
Phokas gives the size of (round?) cavalry shields as about 110 cm across:
four or five “spithamai”, i.e. 94-127 cm (McGeer, Dragon’s Teeth pp.41, 212).
The narrower ‘kite-shaped’ shields – almond-shaped or like an inverted
tear-drop - began to appear by about 950; they were about two feet or 60 cm
wide at their widest, or 70 cm; and about 105 cm high according to D’Amato
2005 (or 94 cm x 117 cm in his 2007 paper, p.63). But the round, medium
shields, diameter of about one metre (100 cm), were more common until
after the year 1000.
The Skylitzes manuscript has illustrations of shields covered in red leather.


2,400: Mounted archers: 40% of the cavalry (McGeer pp. 68, 213)

The smaller cavalry bow could shoot arrows as far as 130 metres, with a
killing range of perhaps 80 metres or 260 feet. The archers carried on their
belt a single large rounded-box quiver with 40-50 arrows. The arrows were
inserted point upwards (in contrast to point-downwards for the infantry
As Dawson notes, Nicephorus Phocas’s (AD 975) Praecepta Militaria [PM]
or Composition on Warfare at III.8 says that the horse archers should wear
helms, body-armour in the form of lamellar klibania and quilted coats called
kavadia which protect their legs and part of their horses. See the photograph
of his reconstruction (2005) at Dawson’s website
http://www.levantia.com.au/military/archer.html. - There the soldier wears
high boots folded down, a split kavadion or thick padded coat to just below
the knees worn under a lamellar cuirass or corselet (torso only), and a
rounded skull-tight dish helmet with a non-metallic aventail.
Phokas says that horse-archers carried, or should carry, the same large
one-metre shields as lancers.
Many horse-archers were native Romanics, but under Nicephoros perhaps
already the majority of this type in the imperial army were "barbarians", i.e.
Patzinak Turks, Magyars and others.

Up to 500: "True" cataphracts

These 500 made up Phokas’ new-style super-heavy cavalry regiment with

fully armoured horses (McGeer, Dragon’s Teeth p.217). The horse-armour
was a full klibadion made of hardened ox-hide platelets covering the whole
horse to its knees.
The soldier too was covered from head to toe in armour: helmet; several
layers of mail to cover the face; full-body lamellar klibadion to the elbows and
knees; and full metal split-guards protecting the lower arm and lower legs.
Their main weapon was the large mace, Greek bardoukon, ‘sledge-
hammer’, used for smashing through the centre of the enemy line; but they
also carried lance and sword.
The all-metal fighting mace of hexagonal type, furnished of beaten iron
plaques, and with an iron head, is mentioned in the Praecepta Militaria (PM)
of the Emperor Nikephoros Phokas. These “iron staffs” (sidhrorabdia) are
prescribed for the heavy cavalry: "they should have iron staffs with iron
massive heads. These heads should have acute sides" (i.e. they were of
hexagonal, squared or hexagonal shape). Also, the shaft was - as the name
sidhro-rabdia (‘iron staffs’) suggests - probably entirely of iron, so it is highly
probable that such maces were for swinging and striking only and not
throwing weapons. The Byzantines also had throwing-type maces for use in
other contexts (D’Amato 2008; Luttwak 2009:371).

McGeer, Dragon’s Teeth p.317, notes that, after the expedition of 971, the
kataphraktoi or super-heavy cavalry (with armoured horses) are not
mentioned again in the historical sources, except for small numbers in Syria.
Evidently, being expensive, and the offensive phase of this period having


ended, they passed out of use by about 1025.

300-500: Light skirmishers (McGeer p.211).

Dawson, citing PM II.3, explains that the prokoursatores were a medium-

cavalry arm whose job was to harass small groups of the enemy and pursue
fugitives. They could be equipped in a simple klibanion like the horse archer,
or they could wear mail. Their standard armament was a sword, mace and
round shield. We might call them ‘sword-chasers’, as they lacked the lance.

Sub-total say 6,000 cavalry (12 banda of 500). If the Tagmata* supplied say
3,000 horsemen, then 3,000 would have come from the Themes.

(*) There were four cavalry regiments in the Tagmata: the Scholai,
Exkoubitores, Vigla and Hikanatoi. John Tzimiskes was to create a fifth,
the Athanatoi or “Immortals” in 970 (Leo Diac. VIII:4; McGeer p.199;
D’Amato 2007: 54).
Leo the Deacon describes the Athanatoi as “sheathed in armour”:
trans. Talbot & Sullivan p.38.


There is a monograph on this topic: Byzantine Infantryman: Eastern

Roman Empire c.900-1204, by Timothy Dawson & Angus McBride;
Osprey Books 2007.

Here again the numbers are the elemants of an ideal expeditionary force
totalling 20,000 men.
By no means all the infantry wore metallic armour.

6-10,000 basic pike infantry

The primary weapon was a very long spear or thin pike of about four metres
or 13 feet, Greek "kontarion", also called doru or ‘spear’ in Leo the Deacon.
They also carried “belt-hung” swords, i.e. not hung on a baldric from the
shoulder as was common (McGeer p.206). Also Dawson at
http://www.levantia.com.au/military/infantry.html; accessed 2010.

According to the manuals, the common infantryman wore quilt armour and a
turban-like ‘pseudo-helmet’ of felt (McGeer pp.203-4; illustrations by McBride
in Dawson 2007b). This may be what Leo the Deacon is referring to when he
uses kune, a Greek word that otherwise means a cap or helmet of leather
(Leo Diac., trans. Talbot and Sullivan 2005: 40).
Dawson, at www-personal.une.edu.au/~tdawson/infantry; accessed 2002
[link dead in 2010]: “For the basic infantry, the Praecepta Militaria (PM I.3-4)
describes a turban over a thick felt cap and a long padded coat (kavadion,
kabadion) made of coarse silk quilted with cotton wadding "as thick as can be


stitched". The author of the Praecepta states that the first choice for footwear
was thigh boots, to be folded down to allow ease of movement on the
march”. In his reconstruction Dawson shows the kavadion extending to the
top of the boots, i.e. below the knees.
Heath (1979) notes that, although the manuals state that ordinary infantry
do not wear iron helmets, the contemporary illustrations do show infantry
typically with iron helmets and also lamellar iron or mail body armour - often
to the waist but sometimes to the knees. Conceivably such illustrations
represent elite infantry guardsmen in the capital rather then the ordinary
foot-soldiers of the Themes.
Their shields were variously round or ‘kite’ shaped and of varying sizes.
Round shields were sometimes quite large: up 140 cm (4 ft 7 in) high,
according to McGeer p.205, i.e. covering from above the shoulder to below
the knee. Dawson 2007b: 23 offers the smaller figure of 95 cm (3 ft) as
normal. Parani Images p. 125 list the “great round” infantry shield as having
a diameter of 82 cm. The ‘kite’ shaped shield illustrated at Dawson’s Levantia
site looks only about 70 cm high.

4,800 Foot archers

About a quarter of the infantry force. No armour. They used heavier bows
capable of sending an arrow over 300 metres, with a killing distance of
perhaps 200 metres (McGeer pp.68, 207).
Nikephoros specifies that his archers are to have a small shield, two bows
and two quivers: one of 60 arrows, the other of 40 arrows. As we noted
earlier, foot archers stored their arrows point-down in their quivers.

Interestingly, Leo the Deacon mentions pulling the arrow “to the chest”; this
may reflect a return after 500 years to the use of the weaker three-finger
Mediterranean release instead of the stronger ‘Hunnic’ or ‘Mongolian’ thumb-
draw, in which the string was drawn back to the ear (Haldon, cited in Talbot
and Sullivan’s edition of Leo p.39). Mediterranean: the string is pulled with
the three middle fingers, with the arrow placed between the index and
middle finger. Eastern, Hunnic or Mongolian draw: the string is pulled with a
ring worn on the front of one’s thumb, with the arrow resting on the top side
of the thumb. Also the arrow is fired past the right or ‘inside’ of the bow, not
the left or outer side as in latter-day Western Europe.


2,400 Light infantry

Armed with javelins or slings. Javeliners carried two or three casting spears
(akontia, ‘javelins’ or doration, ‘throwing spear’) up to “2.75” m or nine ft
long. The Syllogê Taktikôn says that infantry javelins must be no longer than
2.35 m or 7ft 9in, which is surpisingly long; they must have been quite light in
their shaft and heads (Dawson 2007b: 24).
Their shields were smaller than those of the pike infantry (McGeer p.208).
According to Parani, p.126, they were “oblong” (possibly oval) and 94 cm (37
inches) high.

1,200 Heavy infantry pikemen called Menavlatoi or menavliatoi

This type defended the infantry square against cavalry charges (McGeer
pp.209, 268). They were armed with thick pikes or heavy poles, used to stab
the enemy horses. The pikes were three to four metres or 10-12 ft in length
with a long 20-inch or 50 cm blade (McGeer’s figures; Dawson 2007b: 61 says
just 2.5 metres long).
The infantry square was symmetrical and seven deep, with spearmen in the
front ranks, foot-archers behind them and the menavliatoi at the rear
(Dawson 2007b: 52, 62).

Subtotal 12-16,000 infantry in 12-16 taxiarchies of 1,000: the ideal for Phokas
was 12,000 infantry (McGeer p.51; also p.207).



According to Treadgold 1982, 1985, 1997.

Treadgold is inclined to give credence to the perhaps controversial testimony

of the Islamic geographer al-Jarmi/Garmi (fl. 845), and proceeds to argue that
the army of the mid-ninth century consisted of 154,000 soldiers and sailors,
rising to 283,000 by 1025:

Year Body- Tagmata Themes/ Navy Remarks

/Reign guards Land themes /incl.
Includes naval
cavalry and themes/
infantry. [oarsme

842: 400 (*) 20,000: 95,600+ 34,200*** Some 120,000

Theoph Four (**) Of which paid land soldiers
ilus: cavalry 70,000 in the including Themes.
regiments Asian themes
each of (Treadgold
4,000; and 1982: 16,
two infantry citing the


garrisons Arab writer

each 2,000. Qudamah).
Or 24,000 if
the Optimates
are counted.

(*) The ‘Imperials’ under an officer known as the Protospatharius, lit.

‘first sword-bearer’: Treadgold Army p.110.

(**) Emperor Nicephorus I, r. 801-811, enlarged the Tagmata, adding a

fourth cavalry regiment, the Hicanati, in 809: Treadgold 1982: 71.

(***) As an indicative total, this was enough to man some 228 smaller
dromons (100 rowers each) and 57 larger dromons (with 200 rowers):
total 285 ships. Cf O’Rourke 2009.

Year Body- Tagmata Themes/ Navy /incl. Remarks

/Reign guards Land naval
themes themes/
Includes [oarsmen]
cavalry and

959: 1,200 28,000. Note 1. 114,800 in 34,200 144,000 paid land

Consta Of which the naval soldiers.
ntine 20,000 cavalry Themes. oarsmen.
VII and 8,000 Note 2.

1025: 1,200 42,000 /sic/. 204,600 34,200 247,800 paid land

Basil II Of which oarsmen soldiers. Nearly
24,000 cavalry twice the number
and 18,000 under Con. VII.
including 6,000
Note 3.

Note 1: Tagmata of 28,000 in 959 (Treadgold): This derives from an

interpretation of the Arab writer Ibn Khordabah, writing c.845, who seems to
imply that each regiment was 6,000 strong.
Heath suggests (1979: 12) that an alternative interpretation is that the
entire Tagmata numbered only 6,000 ie each cavalry unit only 1,500. This is
unlikely, as another writer Arab writer Kodama states that each Tagma had
4,000 men. And a later Byzantine source (c.980) speaks of a minimum of


8,200 men as the number that should accompany the emperor on campaign,
which implies that the entire Tagmata was larger again (Heath p.13).

Note 2: Enough to man some 228 galleys (57-86 large dromons and 171-
228 smaller dromons).

Note 3: The Tagmata was divided in about 959 into an Eastern Tagmata and
a Western Tagmata; this involved an overall increase to about 32,000 men.
Then John Tzimiskes, emperor 969-976, further enlarged the Tagmata,
creating a new cavalry division of 4,000 men called the Immortals. Then Basil
II, 976-1025, created the Varangian [Viking-Russian] Guard of 6,000

* * *

The Arab authors al-Hamadani, writing c.902, and Kodama or Qudamah,

c.930, say that each Romaic Theme or province supplied 4,000 or more first
class cavalry, implying a total of at least 85,000 cavalry from the eastern
(Asian) themes, and probably more. If this were correct, then after adding the
Tagmata and the western themes, we would have a total - definitely too high
- of over 100,000 cavalry.
In fact, the numbers stated by the Arab writers covered both cavalry and
infantry, and were only a partial count.

Emperor Leo, writing in about 903/907, says that, without drawing more than
4,000 horsemen from each of the Asian themes, 30,000 cavalry could be put
into the field. Either this was an error or Leo’s ’30,000’ included unpaid
irregulars. Treadgold, Army p.110, estimates that the total regular thematic
cavalry, including the European themes, was just 23,500 at this time.
In regard to infantry, Leo seems to imply – although the figure looks very
large – that a single theme could muster as many as “24,000” men. Or at
least one theme did, for this is a figure never to be exceeded. Presumably far
fewer were able to be raised by the smaller Themes (Browning p.131; Heath
1979: 20-21).
According to Treadgold, the theme with the most troops –15,000 men –
was the Anatolic (1997: 444). There were just 4,000 troops—cavalry and
infantry—in a typical small, eastern theme such as Cappadocia, Charsianum
and Chaldia.

The strongest or largest themes, each with 6-15,000 troops, were: the
Anatolikon (central); the Armeniakon (central-east: which extended to the
Arab border); Bucellarion (central-northern); Thracesion (south-west); and
Opsikion (north-west). Chaldia in the extreme north-east was also strong. The
Arab authors al-Hamadani and Kodama/Qudamah, cited in Heath 1979 p.19,
differ about the size of its forces.

Total enrolment

Treadgold puts the size of the whole land army, both cavalry and infantry, the
tagmata and the themes, at 120,000 men in the ninth century, rising to


130,000 in Leo VI’s time. In the themes, the ratio of infantry to cavalry was
about 4:1 (Army p.110).

The empire’s regular troops – cavalry and infantry, Tagmata and Themes -
reached 144,000 men by 959 if we follow Treadgold. According to Heath,
Nikephoros II then reduced the overall total, although he also improved the
quality of the empire’s fighting men. Then John I and Basil II again increased
the overall size of the army. As in the table above, by AD 1025 it reached
over 245,000 men according to Treadgold, with fully 42,000 men, including
34,000 cavalry, in the Tagmata alone (1997: 576).

For comparison, in Antiquity under Constantine I, the army of the Eastern

empire had numbered about “350,000”. But this included about 250,000
inferior frontier troops. The mobile army of the East, the comitatenses,
numbered about 100,000 in about 320 (Mango p.34, Ferrill p.43).

In other words, the New-Roman (Greek) empire in the late 10th century, which
was smaller in territory, could in principle call upon more mobile troops than
in Constantine the Great’s time.

In practice, in both eras, expeditionary forces generally drew on no more than

a quarter of the whole army.

Size of Romaic Field Armies

According to Haldon, in Harris 2005.

Largest recorded: Range for


AD 285- 65,000 men – Julian’s Persian 15-30,000

633: campaign of 363; some were
Western empire troops.

52,000 – Syrian campaign of

503, largest Eastern empire
field army before 600.

AD 633- 70,000 – Nikephoros’ Arab 15-30,000.

1025: campaign of 962.

After 1081: 30,000 – campaign against the 5-10,000

Turks at the Battle of
Myriokephalon in 1176.

1204-1453: ca. 6,000 – Battle of Pelagonia 500 to 2,000.

in 1259. Unpaid “allied” troops
including Turks sometimes
brought the total in an


expedition to over 10,000.

Examples of large Field Armies and Marine Expeditions in this period

Any field expedition with over 20,000 men may be considered large. On rare
occasions, we find over 40,000 engaged on one campaign or in one battle:

77,000 including non-combatant rowers – Nicephorus Phocas’s amphibious

expedition of 960-61 to Crete. One source put the number of oarsmen,
marines and soldiers together at a quite credible 77,000 men (Treadgold,
State p.495). Leo Diaconus says 24,000 men were involved; that possibly
represents just the number of fighting troops. – The expedition comprised
“3,308” ships of all sizes including warships, transport and troopships and
supply boats. Many must have been very small, even tiny: 3,308 x average of
20 men per vessel = 66,160 men, including sailors/oarsmen, marines and
soldiers (or average of 23 per vessel = 77,000).

70,000 – field army under Nicephorus Phocas at Aleppo in 962/63, which

Treadgold describes as “quite exceptional” (Army p.212).

60,000 – field army at Manzikert in 1071; quite exceptional for the era. Or at
least that was the number when the field army first set out. The number who
took part in the fighting may have been as small as 30,000 men.

50-70,000 – Theophilus’s eastern expedition of 837 (Treadgold 1997: 440).

But many were Persian (Khurramite) allies; the number of Byzantines may
have been fewer than 40,000.

50,000: under Kourkouas in 934. A combined Romaic-Armenian army of

“50,000” under John Curcuas /Kourkouas/, the Domestic of the Scholae
[domestikos tõn scholõn], or General of the Army, ravaged upper

43-47,000: sailors, marines and army troops in the 949 amphibious

expedition to Crete: “34,000 mariners, 7,340 soldiers, 700 Russians, and
5,087 Mardaites” (toatal 47,127), says Gibbon. Or if we follow Treadgold
(Army p.190 note 11): 6,268 troops and 38,640 rowers and sailors, making a
grand total of 44,908 men. Large ships numbered 189 or 197.
At 200 oarsmen each, 189 large galleys would have required 37,800
rowers. In practice, possibly only as few 28,350 men [i.e. 189 x 150] were
allocated to galleys, large and small. That would still leave 10,000+ mariners
to sail the transporter galleys and/or sail-ships, or as many as 500 small craft
if they required only (say) 20 sailors each! (Cf 20 oarsmen on 13th century
Genoese horse-transport galleys: Gardiner 2004 p.115.)
The 911 expedition to Crete was about the same size: 42,774 according to

40,000: Emperor Michael’s eastern expedition of 863.


40,000: Nicephorus Phocas’s attack on Cilicia in 964.

30-40,000 under John Tzimisces in 971: European land campaign against the
Slavs. Largest recorded expedition sent into the Balkans.

30,000 in the imperial army destroyed in 813 in Europe by the Bulgarians

under khan Krum.

18,000 – ideal size of an ordinary field army or expeditionary force described

in Nikephoros Phokas’s Taktika, dated to after AD 954, i.e. 12,000 infantry
and 6,000 cavalry.
Presumably any expedition with over 18,000 men was regarded as
requiring extraordinary logistical arrangements.


We start in the mid 9th century, when the army was already as Leo VI would
describe it some decades later.

Arab Invasion of 838

Two very large Arab armies – “50,000 and 30,000”: the former marching
initially in two columns - entered Cappadocia. This included many Turkish
horse-archers (“10,000” according to Genesius cited by Kaegi 1964: 99). The
forces of the caliph al-Mu’tasim (833-42) were supported, it is said, by 50,000
camels and 20,000 mules (*) (unlike in Byzantium, carts and other wheeled
vehicles were little used in the Islamic world).
PBW: Omar or Amr of Melitene accompanied the son of the caliph with an
army of Turks and Armenians on an invasion of the Roman empire. At a site
called Anzen, near Dazemon, they met and defeated a Roman army under
the young emperor Theophilos; their mission was to test the strength of the
East Romans before an attack was made by the caliph himself on Amorion:
Theoph. Cont. III 31 (pp. 126-128), cf. Zon. XV 29. 11.

(*) These figures appear credible. Haldon, in Pryor ed. 2006: 158, has
calculated, using known consumption and carrying levels, that some
9,000 mules were needed to carry provisions (food for the troops, plus
grain and hay for horses) for an army of 10,000 men (composed of
6,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry). The provisions will last for 24 days,
longer if foraging is allowed for. Applying an average marching rate, this
was enough only for a return journey of 240 km out and 240 km back.
(Cf 500 km to the centre of Neo-Roman Anatolia from Muslim Cilicia.) As
noted, however, foraging and also confiscations or food tribute would
have supplemented whatever the camels and mules were able to carry.

Arab victories: Having defeated the Byzantines at Anzen, they press west and
capture Amorium, SW of Ankara, the Basileus’s (emperor’s) birthplace and
probably the largest East Roman town in Asia Minor. As many as ‘35,000’
civilians and soldiers were killed, most of them rural refugees from the wider


region who had retreated into the fortress-town.

The size of Amorion must have been substantial. Michael Syrus, relating
the capture of the town by the Arabs in 838, writes: "The monasteries and
nunneries were so numerous that more than 1,000 virgins [i.e. nuns], not to
speak of those who were massacred, were led away into captivity." —Michael
Syrus, ed. Chabot p.100.

In the prelude, Theophilus was defeated in a bloody battle at Dazimon or

Anzen (*), in NE Asia Minor in July 838. His competent general, the Armenian
Manuel, was killed and the Rhomaniyan army retreated NW to nearby
Amasya, Gk: Amaseia. Then, after an energetic resistance of 55 days,
Amorion fell into al-Mutasim's hands through treachery on 23 September 838.
Dating according to Symeon the Logothete; also Mas’udi IV, 358-59: Arabs
defeat Theophilus and kill general Manuel at Anzen 22 July 838; and the
Caliph sacks Amorium 12 August 838. Other sources prefer September.

(*) Modern Dazmama, the fortress near Tokat, NW of Sivas: inland from
the mid-north coast of Asia Minor. Anzen was the name of a hill on the
battlefield. Amasya-Tokat-Sivas lie on a notional line NW-SE. Amasia and
Dazimon gave their names to the westernmost turmai (districts) of the
empire’s Armeniac theme.

The Rhomaniyans probably came to realise the usefulness of the trebuchet –

the rope-pull or beam-sling traction trebuchet (*) - in field operations after
their defeat in the battle of Anzen in AH 223, AD 838. In this battle, the
Byzantine army under Emperor Theophilus faced Abbasid forces under a
caliphâl general, Afshin. On the afternoon of 22 July, Turkish archers isolated
and surrounded the emperor and a band of 2,000 Khurramite (Persian and
Kurd) soldier-refugees originally from al-Jibaal (modern Luristan). They were
closing in for the kill when (says Cedrenus) a rainstorm rendered the Turks’
bows useless. The Muslims quickly brought up traction trebuchets and hurled
stones on the Romanic forces (**), which then dispersed in panic (Michael
Syrus 3:95, 4:535; also Bar Hebraeus ed. Bedjan, 149, cited by Treadgold
1988: 300).

(*) Five or more men facing away from the target pull down on short
ropes attached the front end of the beam, which pivot-launches the
back end of the beam: illustration in Dawson 2007b. The counter-weight
trebuchet appeared later – in the 1100s.

(**) It is thought that early trebuchets were an anti-personnel weapon,

as they were clearly not powerful enough to batter through walls (see E
McGeer, 1995, ‘Byzantine Siege Warfare’).

Gibbon: “When the armies drew near, the front of the Mahometan line
appeared to a Roman eye more closely planted with spears and javelins; but
the event of the action was not glorious on either side to the national troops.
The Arabs were [initially] broken, but it was by the swords of 30,000 Persians
[Khurramites***], who had obtained service and settlement in the East-
Roman empire. The Greeks were repulsed and vanquished, but it was by the


arrows of the Turkish cavalry; and had not their bowstrings been damped and
relaxed by the evening rain, very few of the Christians could have escaped
with the emperor from the field of battle.”

(***) ‘The Happy Ones’. An Iranian religious and political movement

hostile to Arabs, the Caliphate and Islam.

After a stout resistance of 55 days, Amorium fell into al-Mu'tasim's hands

through treachery on 23 September 838. Some 30,000 of the inhabitants
were slain, the rest sold as slaves, and the city razed to the ground.

Treadgold, Army 1995: 210, comments that this campaign showed

Theophilus that, though the Romaniyan (‘Byzantine’) army might defeat Slavs
and Bulgarians and Arab raiding parties, it was still unable to withstand a
regular Arab/Muslim army in the field.
Amorium was never to recover from its sack in 838. In the next century it
was replaced as the major military centre of Anatolia by Cappadocian
It is said that al-Mu'tasim’s troops found in Ankyra, Amorium and other
centres in Asia Minor ancient Greek medical books that subsequently were
translated into Arabic. That such books were translated is certain; whether
they were discovered on this campaign may be doubted.

John Haldon’s Account of the Battle of Anzen, near Dazimon, 838 (Haldon
2001: 78 ff)

A division of Turkish horse-archers played a prominent role in the Caliph’s

army. Haldon argues that by 838 the archers in the Romaic army were either
very few or of poor quality. In 904 one finds Slavic archers defending Greek
Haldon’s claim may be contradicted by the Taktika of Leo VI, ca. 907, in
which the use of the bow, by Byzantine foot-archers and horse-archers alike,
is highlighted. On the other hand, Leo’s insistence that every East-Roman boy
should learn to shoot the bow could be read as implying that many or most
did not. This too may be indicated by his order that, in the provinces, every
house, or at least every soldier’s house, was to keep one bow and 40 arrows.
Whether he means society at large or just the army in particular, “archery
has been wholly neglected and has fallen into disuse among the Romans
(Byzantines) [and therfere] the many present reverses are wont to take
place” (Leo, quoted by Kaegi 1964: 101).

In June 838 Mu’tasim began assembling an expedition to capture Ankyra

(modern Ankara) and Theophilos’s birthplace, Amorion, in west-central Asia
Minor. Hearing of this, Theophilos responded by leading out a force
comprised of the Tagmata and thematic troops from Thrace and Macedonia.
Also in his expedition were Theophobos’ Persian and Kurdish (Khurramite)
At Dorylaion the Emperor divided his forces, one part being sent to
reinforce the garrison of Amorion, while he himself took most of his army,
perhaps 25,000 men, towards Caesarea in Cappadocia, aiming to block the


route from the Cilician Gates to Ankyra.

The Muslims set out meanwhile in mid June in three columns. One column
—probably fewer than 20,000 men under the leading general Afshin—
marched to Malatya and then pushed NW into the Byzantine Armeniac
theme. This column included perhaps 10,000 Turkish horse-archers from
Central Asia, who now make their first significant appearance on the stage of
history. The second and third columns advanced through Cilicia and along the
main road towards Ankyra. The plan was for the three columns to rejoin there
before pushing on (which is to say: SE) to Amorion.
Afshin’s column advanced as far as the Byzantine aplekton (fortress,
storage base and assembly point) at Dazimon, which is modern Dazmana
between Tokat and Amasya. That is to say: NW of Sebaseia/Sivas. Theophilos
was camped on the Halys River near Caesarea when he heard of this. Leaving
a detachment to guard the road to Ankyra, he took most of his remaining
forces, more than 20,000 men, north-eastwards against Afshin. The latter’s
force was sighted on 21 July. The Romaics formed up on the plain of Dazimon
near a hill that bore the name Anzen. It served as an observation point.
The Byzantines attacked at dawn on 22 July. They were immediately
successful on one wing, driving Afshin’s forces from their positions and
inflicting some 3,000 casualties. Only the Turkish horse-archers stood firm,
says Kaegi (1964: 100). Meanwhile Theophilos moved to strengthen his other
wing by personally leading across 2,000 of the Tagmata [elite regiments] and
his Kurds. As he moved across, the enemy Muslims made a powerful counter-
charge against the East-Roman wing that had already attacked. The missile-
fire of the Turkish horse-archers brought the enemy advance to a halt. And
now most of the Byzantines no longer had the emperor’s standard in their
sight. They assumed he had fallen. Not realising he had simply moved to the
other wing, they began to waver. The Romaic battle-line soon dissolved in the
face of continued fire from the enemy horse-archers.
Some Byzantine units escaped west, others escaped to the north, while
others were simply annihilated. Theophilos himself, with his 2,000 Tagmata
and Kurds (Khurramites), was able ro reach the hill of Anzen. The sudden
appearance of a rainstorm left the Muslim horse-archers with useless bows,
and the imperialists were able to take up a strong defensive position on the
hill. According to Cedrenus, it was only this rain and the arrival of night that
saved the emperor (Kaegi 1964: 100).
Afshin now ordered siege catapaults (hand-drawn traction trebuchets) to
brought from his baggage train to bombard the emperor’s position. Deciding
his duty was to escape, the emperor broke through the Muslim lines with a
small band, leaving the rest to their fate.
Proceeding north, Theophilos’s band joined up with a number of Byzantine
units that had managed to reach the region of Chiliokomon near Amaseia.
Subsequently he came upon the detachment he had left to cover the road to
Ankyra; this corps had pulled back to the NW. Ankyra meanwhile was
abandoned by its population.
Theophilos sent some units to Amorion to reinforce it, while he himself
proceeded towards the capital to kill the rumours there that he was dead.
The first Muslim force reached an empty Ankyra on 27 July when Theophilos
was still at Dorylaion (only a litle to the west). After sacking Ankyra, the
Muslim army moved on to besiege the fortress-city of Amorion at the


beginning of August. The Arabs and Turks took it after two weeks, sacked it
and slaughtered the Byzantine garrison. This was a great blow to imperial
But this was as far as Mu’tasim’s armies went, as the Caliph soon withdrew
them from Asia Minor to deal with a rebellion at home.

Above: The East. In AD 900 Trabzon (Trebizond) was the seat of the
border Byzantine Theme of Chaldia. Caesarea (modern Kayseri) was the
seat of the Byzantine Theme of Cappadocia. In Cilicia the Empire
controlled a smaller part in the west while the Caliphate controlled a
larger segment in the east: Byzantium captured Tarsus in 965 and
pressed thence into Syria by 969. All of northern Mesopotamia and most
of eastern Armenia was controlled by the Caliphate or its subordinate
emirs in 900. The region marked Sophene on this map was a contested
no man’s land between the Empire and Caliphate. The Byzantines
pushed east thereafter, taking Erzurum (Gk Theodosiopolis) in 931.

Poson, 863

The Battle of Poson was fought at a location not precisely identified:

somewhere in NW Anatolia east of the Halys [Kızılırmak] River or south of the
Upper Halys: perhaps near Sivas. It is regarded by some historians as the
beginning of an Imperial counter-offensive against Islam in the East.
Alternatively, the beginning of the counter-offensive can be dated to 900. At
any rate, the victory at Poson put an end to serious Arab-Muslim raiding in
The young emperor Michael III, aged 23 in 863, and his uncle Petronas,
leading their troops in three very large corps, achieve a major victory against
a modest force led by the emir Omar or Amer [Umar ibn Abdallah ibn
Marwan] of Melitene/Malatya, who is killed. Omar was returning from Amisus
(Samsun) on the shore of the Black Sea east of Sinope, so the battle would
have taken place somewhere between Samsun and Malatya.
Armenia and the Paulicians—the large community of quasi-Christian
“heretics” living in the borderlands of Armenia—were also defeated.


“In a single summer’s campaign the Byzantines had eliminated [sic!] their
three most formidable enemies in the east” (says Treadgold 1997: 452 with
some exaggeration).
“If there is one event which marked the decisive shift in the balance of
power between Byzantines and Arabs, this was it” (Browning 1992: 67).

Logistics and Numbers at Poson

Toynbee 1973: 300 ascribes the victory at Poson to planning and logistics, i.e.
the skilful convergence of the various East Roman corps at the right point at
the right moment.

Petronas assembled his forces thus:

[a.] On the enemy’s northern flank he posted elements of the Armeniakoi

theme (perhaps 3,750 men), the Voukellarioi (Bucellarians) (4,000), the
Koloneia (1,500) and Paphlagonia corps (2,500): subtotal perhaps 11,750

[b.] On the enemy’s inner or southern flank, he deployed some of the

Anatolikoi theme (possibly 7,500), the Opsikion (3,000), the Kappadhokia
corps (2,000) and the troops of the Selefkeia (2,500) and the Kharsianon
kleisourai [frontier sub-provinces] (2,000) (in 863 the latter two were small
military districts – but with substantial troops): subtotal perhaps 17,000; and

[c.] On the enemy’s central or western front: Petronas’s own corps, the
Thrakesioi theme (perhaps 5,000), together with the Thracian (2,500) and
Macedonian corps (perhaps 2,000) and detachments from the four Imperial
Tagmata (cavalry) (8,000): subtotal perhaps 17,500.

Here the bracketed numbers, drawn from Treadgold’s Army (1995), show half
the troops enrolled in each named division, so that, using a thought–
experiment, we can crudely estimate the possible size of the forces deployed.
The result is 46,250 men. This is quite close to what the contemporary
sources say the actual numbers were (see next).

Michael III is said to have led a field army of 40,000, or a third of the whole
armed strength of the empire. The Greek sources, which are hostile to
Michael, state that his uncle Petronas was the real general, but the Arabic
sources make clear that Michael, 23 years old, was an active participant. On
the other side, the Caliphate was capable of deploying a field army of up to
80,000 men (Treadgold 1982: 92).
The theme commanders, led by Michael's uncle Petronas, strategus
[commander] of the Thrakesion theme, celebrated a splendid triumphal entry
into the capital, which took place probably in the presence of the emperor.
Prominent in the procession was the display of the head of the defeated emir
and those of many of his followers. A second stage of the triumph took place
in the Hippodrome, with the theme commanders again in pride of place.
Although the ceremonial action fell to the victorious commanders, it was the
emperor who was ritually acclaimed as the ultimate instrument of victory


(McCormick p.152).
“The patrician Petronas, brother of the Empress Theodora and Caesar
Bardas, achieved (863) a brilliant victory over the Emir Omar or Amr of
Melitene and pushed back the Muslim peril for two centuries [sic!]”. –Halkin

John Haldon’s Account of the Campaign of 863 (Haldon 2001: 83 ff)

Haldon attributes the imperial victory to good leadership and the good
intelligence about enemy movements.

The joint forces of the emirs of Tarsus and Melitene, totalling perhaps as
many as 15,000-20,000, penetrated through the Cilician Gates, pillaging and
collecting booty as it went. Forewarned, Michael III had assembled two armies
to deal with the attack.
For reasons unknown, the larger part of the invading force turned back
once it reached central Cappadocia, while Omar, the emir of Melitene,
proceeded deeper into East-Roman territory with some 8,000 troops. In the
region between Nazianos [Aksaray] and Nyssa [Nevsyehir]—in other words,
NE of Aksaray—they were attacked by Michael in person, at the head of
about the same number of men, probably drawn from the Tagmata and the
themes of Cappadocia and Charsianon. The Muslims called the area Marj al-
Usquf, ‘Bishop’s Meadow’. After a short clash in which both sides suffered
serious casualties, the Muslim army pushed on NE to the Black Sea coast at
Amisos (Samsun), east of the mouth of the Halys.
Another larger Byzantine force under Petronas – Haldon calls him
‘commander of the imperial Tagmata’ - followed Omar’s army
northeastwards. Or rather, “13” different corps came together from various
directions and joined up to surround the Muslims at a point on the Lalakaon
River in the border region between the Paphlagonia and Armeniakon themes.
This was 130 km inland from Samsun.
From the west, Petronas himself brought the four imperial Tagmata and
thematic troops from the Thrakesian, Thrace and Macedonia. From the south
came the troops previously commanded by Michael (who had returned to the
capital) – those of the Anatolikon, Opsikion and Cappadocia themes and the
kleisourai [frontier commands] of Charsianon and Seleukeia. From the north
came troops from the Koloneia, Paphlagonia, Armeniakon and Boukellarion
themes. The Muslims were outnumbered at least three to one, so Petronas
may have had up to 30,000 men altogether. As we noted earlier, a figure of
40,000 is not impossible. The contemporary Persian historian al-Tabari (aged
25 in 863) said 50,000.
Omar unwisely decided to fight rather then flee. He was killed and his army

Bathys Ryax, 872 [or in 878: the date is disputed]

The Paulicans—the large warlike community of quasi-Christian “heretics”

living in the borderlands of Armenia—attacked into Byzantine Galatia and
raided as far west as Ankara. The Emperor’s son-in-law Christopher led (872)
a counter-attack that would lead to the destruction of Tephrice and the


Paulicians’ other fortifications in Asia Minor. The imperial army moved south
into Mesopotamia and captured Zapetra and Samosata the next year; but it
was defeated at Melitene.

Basil sent a great expedition against the ‘heretics’ under his son-in-law and
the Domestic of the Schools [domestikos tõn scholõn, senior general],
Christopher. The Paulician chief Khrysokheir or Chrysocheir was killed near
Sebastea, and their capital Tephrike was subsequently (*) captured (878) and
their power finally destroyed. Treadgold 1997: 457, citing Lemerle, dates
Christopher’s campaign against Chrysocheir to 872; Haldon 2001: 85 places it
in 878. The evidence is conflicting.

(*) Chrysocheir was killed in action in 872, and his head was cut off and
sent to the emperor as a trophy. But the fortress-town Tefrice, north of
Malatya, remained independent until 878, when, having recently been
damaged in an earthquake, it surrendered to the Byzantines. The
imperial authorities enlisted some of their defeated opponents in their
own armies. Diaconitzes, the trusted ‘groom’ or aide of Chrysocheir
became a Byzantine officer, serving Nicephorus Phocas in Italy.

Again Toynbee, 1973: 300, ascribes the victory of 872 to planning and
logistics: the skilful convergence of the various East Roman corps at the right
point at the right moment. Khrysokheir’s army was encircled at ‘Vathryax’ or
Bathys Ryax, west of Sebasteia (latter-day Sivas), by the thematic troops of
the Armeniakoi [perhaps 5,625 men] and Kharsianon [say 3,000], who
occupied the heights commanding Khrysokheir’s camp.
The Armeniacs and Charsianum were the provinces neighbouring the
Paulician realm. So we may imagine they deployed almost all of their forces
into this campaign. The bracketed figures above represent 75% of their
enrolled troops. Total: 8,625 men. Haldon (see next) offers a smaller figure:

John Haldon’s Account of the Battle of Bathys Ryax (Haldon 2001: 85 ff).

The army commander-general, the domestikos of the scholai, Christopher,

marched with tagmatic (metropolitan) and thematic (provincial) forces
against Chrysocheir’s Paulicians. The latter withdrew and were harassed by
the Romaics as they fell back to the region of Charsianon, NE of Kayseri
Charsianon is about two-thirds of the way along the main road from Ankara
to Sivas. From Charsianon Kastron (*) the military road runs on to Bathys
Ryax [today’s Kalınırmak pass] and then on to Sebastea (Sivas). The Paulician
capital, Tephrike, modern Divrigi, lay further east.

(*) The present-day village of Mushalem Kalesi, according to the French

Wikipedia (2010), which is Haldon’s Mus[h]alem Kale or Mus(h)alim
Kalesi. Kalesi = ‘castle’.

The Paulician army marched towards Bathys Ryax, the modern Kalinirmak
Gap on the NE edge of the Ak Dag range. This was a plekton, or established


marshalling point and supply base (*) for the Byzantine forces of eastern

(*) Haldon 1997 remarks that the main imperial aplêkta formed an arc
running across the north-western and northern edges of the central
Anatolian plateau - at Malagina, Dorylaion and Kaborkin for the westerly
route towards Amorion and thence on to Ikonion/Konya; at Dazimon,
Koloneia and Kaisareia (Kayseri, Caesarea) for the northern route.
Bathys Ryax, south-west of Koloneia and south of Dazimon was
established as a base near Sebasteia (modern Sivas) for the march
towards either Kaisareia or Tephrike, further to the East.

The Byzantine commander stayed camped at Siboron, modern Karamadara,

while he sent forward two thematic contingents, one from the Charsianon
theme, the other from the Armeniakon, to follow and watch the Paulicians, to
see which direction they would take – back westwards into imperial territory
or homewards to the east, towards Tephrike. If the latter, the two contingents
were not to attack but report to the domestikos at Siboron.
Chryoscheir made camp at the head of the valley of Bathys Ryax, evidently
unaware that he was being shadowed. The Byzantines quietly camped
nearby. Disobeying orders, the two thematic contingents decided to mount a
dawn attack. A select force of 1,200 would attack the enemy camp, while the
remainder (some 3,000) would create a great clamour with trumpets and
drums, to panic the Paulicians into believing that the whole combined army
under the domestikos had fallen upon them.
The ruse was completely successful. The Paulicians were routed,
Chrysocheir killed, and some escaping units ran up against the much larger
force under the domestikos.
The Byzantines chased the fleeing enemey for around 50 km to the
northeast as far as the hill of Konstantinou Bounos (probably to be identified
with modern Yildiz Dagi), near Sebasteia. Many Paulicians were killed during
the pursuit. Chrysocheir tried to escape but was cought up at Konstantinou
Bounos by Poullades, a Byzantine soldier who had lived in Tephrike as a
captive of Chrysocheir and now sought revenge. Chrysocheir was fatally
wounded by Poullades while trying to cross a ditch and, despite the pleading
of his loyal servant, Diakonitzis, the overhauling Byzantines beheaded him.
His head was sent to Emperor Basil I in Constantinople (thus Kiapidou, 2003).
The capital Tephrike held out for only a short while thereafter.


Above: The Byzantine defeat at Anchialus, as illustrated in the Skylitzes


Achialus and Katasurtas, 917

Attack on Bulgaria: The regent, the Empress-Mother Zoë, orders a large

combined land-sea operation against Symeon. This results in one of the worst
defeats in New-Roman (Greek) history.
Leo Phocas commands the army, while Romanus Lecapenus commands
the navy. Symeon fears being squeezed between the Pechenegs and the
imperial forces. Leo offers to ferry the Pechenegs across the lower Danube;
but they withdraw, judging that the monies already paid to them are enough.
Then, on 17 August, north of Anchialus/Acheloos on the Black Sea coast, the
Bulgarians crush the imperial army under Leo Phocas and sweep back into
Thrace. There at Katasurtas (Katasyrtai) Symeon defeats a second large
Byzantine army.
The Bulgarian Tsar was now de facto master of the Balkans.

The generals Leo Phocas and John Bogas, formerly strategos of Cherson
(Khersón), which is our our Crimea, were able to gather additional troops
from Asia Minor, supposedly “110,000” men in all – a gross exaggeration.
After all, the entire enrolled army and marines, serving from Italy to Chaldia,
was only 124,000 (Treadgold, Army p.67).
The troops brought across from Asia are mentioned in Leo Grammaticus in
his Chronographia. Let us imagine, therefore, that half the Tagmata (14,000)
went on expedition, along with the full strength of the themes of Macedonia
and Thrace (10,000) and the same number (10,000) drawn from the themes
of Asia; that would give us 34,000. As noted below, Haldon guesses
“30,000” troops.
The admiral Romanus Lecapenus, the future emperor, commanded the
fleet at the mouth of the Danube.
The Bulgarians, under Simeon the Great, had an army supposedly of
“70,000” men (Miracula S. Georgii, cited in Wikipedia 2009, ‘Battle of
Anchialus’) but again this seems too large a figure.

Chronicle of Theophanes Continuatus: “ … having made the customary cash

payments to the tagmata, both conscripted forces and the thematic armies
were transported [shipped from Asia] to Thrace. ... The magistros Leo
Phokas was Domestic of the Schools [commander-in-chief]: he was a man
more renowned for his bravery than for his knowledge of generalship. Then
the venerable and life-giving cross was led out to Thrace by Constantine
Kephalas, protopapas [vicar, head priest] of the palace, and Constantine
Balelias, where everyone bowed before it and and swore together to die for
each other, and they set forth in full array against the Bulgarians. The tagma
of the Exkoubitoi was commanded by John Grapson, the tagma of the
Hikanatoi by Maroules’ son. Romanos Argyros was a general, as was his
brother Leo, and Bardas Phokas, with whom went Melias with the Armenians
and all the other generals (strategoi) of the themata”.
It is claimed, but the figure must be rejected, that ‘70,000’ out of ‘110,000’
Byzantines were killed. So many were killed nevertheless that it was said


their bones could still be observed 75 years later (Wikipedia 2010, ‘Battle of
Anchialus’, citing Leo Diaconus).

Subsequently: “The Bulgarians were so inspired by the victory that they

invaded as far as the City. Leo, the Domestic of the Schools, John the
hetaireiarches [commander of the imperial bodyguard] and Nicholas the son
of Doukas went out to a village in Thrace called Katasurtas, taking a very
large army against the Bulgarians. At night the Bulgarians launched a
surprise attack on them, and the Domestic fled, but Nicholas the son of
Doukas was killed alongside many others.” –Theophanes, quoted in
http://homepage.mac.com/paulstephenson/trans/theocont2.html: accessed

John Haldon’s Account of the Battle of Acheloos (Haldon 2001: 87 ff)

It is, he says, a good example of the role of chance in battle, for an otherwise
well-prepared and well-led army managed to lose because of a
misunderstanding half-way through the fight and the ensuing panic which set

The Byzantine plan was to have the Pechenegs fall on the Bulgarians from
the rear, while the imperial army attacked from the front, with the navy
guarding the Danube mouth and Black Sea coast and providing logistical
In August 917 general Leo Phokas led the army up the Black Sea coast as
far as the region of the Acheloos river, the modern Aheloj or Aheloy, a little
inland from Anchialis, modern Pomorie. The Aheloy River enters the Black
Sea about midway between Pomorie and Nesebar (medieval Mesembria), i.e.
about a third of the way towards the Danube. He had perhaps 30,000 men,
drawn from the Tagmata, the Themes of Thrace and Macedonia, and some of
the Asian themes.
Tsar Symeon came forward, and his army, whose size is not known:
presumably smaller, took up a position in the hills (east of modern Aytos)
overlooking the coastal plain where the imperial troops were encamped.
The two armies formed up on the plain, and Symeon ordered an attack. In
the first phase the Byzantines got much the better of it, but when Leo
dismounted to take a drink at a stream his horse bolted. The riderless horse
caused some of his troops to believe Leo was dead. Meanwhile the Bulgarians
had begun to make an orderly withdrawal, and Symeon, seeing the
Byzantines begin to panic, ordered his men to turn around and attack. This
halted the Byzantine advance and indeed further panicked them into a
disorderly retreat and then a rout. The Bulgarians pursued with vigour.
Byzantine casualties were high, although Leo himself managed to reach
Mesembria (modern Nessebar or Nesebur) on the coast. (From the mouth of
the Aheloy to Nessebar is about eight km.) So many were the dead that it
was reported some 60 years later that heaps of skulls and the whitened
bones of the fallen could be seen strewn along the banks of the Acheloos.

This disaster ushered in a period, says Haldon, in which the Byzantines

improved their fighting ability by insisting on greater discipline and more


caution or at least thoughtfulness. Much of the creddit for this goes to

Ioannes (John) Kourkouas, army commander from 923 to 946.

The Rus’ marine attack on Constantinople, 941

The Grand Prince of Kiev, Igor Rurikovich, sailed against Tsargrad or the
"emperor city", the Slavic name for Constantinople, with a large force of
lodyas - dug-out ‘sailing canoes’.
It was presumably no coincidence that the Byzantine fleet was not in home
waters. In any event the emperor decided to call general Kourkouas from the
East, and meanwhile rigged out a small fleet from 15 old galleys, which had
to be heavily repaired.
In a sea battle fought off the north-east coast of the Bosphorus, the
renovated galleys, dromons, decimated the Kievan fleet with "Greek fire".
This was a liquid, probably distilled petroleum, fired from flamethrowers
(siphon-pumps) carried by the galleys and also catapulted from them as
fireballs at the enemy ships. The projector-jets were either fixed in brass
figureheads on ships or manipulated to turn in various directions.
Some sources describe a massive fleet, and the 'Russians' had a little over
1,000 smallish craft, according to Luitprand - enough to carry 40,000 men
(Runciman 1963: 111). Even this figure seems incredibly large. As noted, the
Romanian (‘Greek’) navy was absent in the Aegean or Mediterranean, and
Romanus could employ only "15" old ships rigged out with Greek fire, but this
was enough to divert the Rus’ to land in Bithynia, which they ravaged. With
the return to the European side of the fleet under Admiral Theophanes (a
patrician and eunuch), and the approach of the main army under Curcuas,
the Russians decided to cross into Thrace. Theophanes’ fleet then annihilated
the Russian boats with Greek Fire. Leo the Deacon says that only “10”
Russian boats survived to reach the other side of the Black Sea.
It is said that the “several thousand” Russian boats were destroyed by just
15 ‘semifracta chelandria’ [sic] or ‘half-size’ galleys. (The Greek is chelandia;
Luitprand adds a “r”.) Evidently they were equipped with several siphons
because they threw ‘liquid fire’ on “all” sides: from the prow, the stern and
the sides. No doubt the fire had a severe impact, but the main effect seems
to have been terror: the Russians dived over-board and drowned (Partington
“They related that the Greeks had in their possession the lightning from
heaven; and had set them on fire by pouring it forth, so that the Rus could
not conquer them” (Russian Primary Chronicle).
A victory celebration was held in Admiral Theophanes' honour. There was a
triumphal return, a splendid ceremonial reception and a promotion, with
Theophanes elevated to the position of parakoimomenos (first bodyguard or
chamberlain: the senior eunuch who supervised the personal safety of the
emperor by locking himself within his bedchamber at night).

The Expedition to Crete, 949

Major ships in the expedition numbered up to 150; that would have

represented most but not all of the whole navy.
Treadgold, Army p.190, offers the following figures: 6,268 troops and


38,640 rowers, making a grand total of 44,908 men (sic!). In his later work,
however, Treadgold says just “4,100” troops went from the themes and the
Tagmata (State, p.489). Haldon, in Byzantium at War 1997, suggests there
were “just over 10,000 [fighting men, i.e. non-oarsmen], although the
complete tally of soldiers for the 949 expedition is not given”: citing
Constantine’s De Cer., 651.14-656.18; 664.7-669.14. Cf below: Whittrow
likewise offers “10,097” troops.
Among the equipment the commander Gongyles took were manganika, i.e.
large catapults or trebuchets: Const. De ceremoniis aulae byzantinae, ed. J. J.
Reiske, CSHB, 2 vols. (Bonn, 1829–30), 1:670.
The commander Constatine Gongyles neglected to construct a secure
camp and to post sentinels to warn of enemy attacks, with the result that the
Arabs bided their time before launching a sudden assault. They overran the
Romaic camp and easily destroyed the expedition. McGeer p.359 calls this
“the most glaring waste of an army”.

The invasion army included some elements of four of the cavalry Tagmata:
493 men from the Scholarii, 869 Vigla or Bigla: the Watch, 700 Excubitores
and 456 Ikanatoi, sub-total 2,518. There was also one mercenary or allied
battalion of Rus or Varangians with ‘629’ men or “600 Russians in nine boats
[sic: elsewhere “six”]”: 584 warriors and with them 45 others, boys and
servants, i.e. 70 per vessel. This was the standard complement of marines on
a large dromon or war-galley. Thus Constantine Porphyrogenitus, De Cerem.,
II, 45; Heath 1979: 13. Counting only fighting men, this gives us a subtotal of
So, using Treadgold’s figures, the breakdown would be: 2,518 men (all
cavalry) from the tagmata, 1,582 from the themes (perhaps all infantry)
[subtotal 4,100] and 584 ‘Russians’ as extra: total 4,684. To reach his total of
“6,268” troops, we have to add 1,584 marines. Cf Whittow’s figures, below:
he says 5,400 army troops and 4,697 marines.

Compare also Constantine’s statement (Pryor & Jeffreys p.557): “The dromon
should have 300 men; of these 230 men of the ship [should be] oarsmen and
marines, and the other 70 men marines [?temporary marines] from the
cavalry themata [sic] and the barbarians”.
This seems to imply, first, that at least some of the rowers were also
fighters. This is attested too in other sources. If we allocate Treadgold’s
“4,100” Tagmatic and thematic troops in lots of 70, then we have enough to
man only about 59 ships. Adding the nine “boats” each with about 65-70
Russian soldiers, we have a total of just 68 vessels, which seems too few.
But we must allow for horse-transport-ships. As noted, the expedition
included 2,518 Tagmata soldiers, all of whom appear to be cavalry (the
number of thematic cavalrymen is unknown). At 12 horses per vessel, 210
horse-transports would have been required for 2,518 horses. This seems too
many. So one would guess that many of the cavalry went without horses,
either expecting to obtain their mounts locally, after they arrived on Crete, or
to fight as dismounted cavalry.

The De Cerem. of Constantine VII says that the number of arrows provided
was 200,000. At one quiver (40 arrows) per man, that would be enough for


5,000 men. Or better, if we allow two quivers-worth: 2,500 archers. Let us

imagine that there were 1,000 horse-archers and 1,500 foot-archers (total
archers 2,500). Horse-archers tended to make up 40% of the cavalry, so that
gives us 3,750 cavalry in all. Let us further imagine there are twice as many
non-archers as archers among the infantry: that gives us 4,500 foot-soldiers.
Notionally possible total: 8,250 fighting men (soldiers, marines and oarsmen-

Let us use this figure of 8,250. An educated guess, although it is purely a

guess, might be as follows:

2,518 elite cavalry – Tagmata: say 400 horse-archers and 2,118 lancers.
1,232 Thematic cavalry: say 600 horse-archers and 632 lancers.
3,750 cavalry:

584 Rus’ axemen.

1,500 Byzantine marines and/or foot-archers from the themes.
2,416 Byzantine marines and/or spear-infantry and javelinists from the
4,500 infantry

TOTAL: 8,250

It is also posible to look at the various units that were engaged. Whittow
1996: 189 reads the sources thus:

1000: Armenians from the eastern tagmata
869: Scholai in the west
700: Excubitors
456: Hikanatoi

Thematic troops:
950: Thrakesion Theme
705: Charpezikion Theme [Christian Arabs form the Upper Euphrates River]
600: Armenians from the Thrakesion
120: Slavs from the Opsikion
subtotal 5,400

Marines and other ship-based troops:

3,000: Mardaïtes (marines based in our Greece)
700: “prisoners”
629: Russians (infantry) in six vessels
368: Toulmatzoi (Dalmatian archers: Parani, p.103 note 10)

GRAND TOTAL: 10,097.


Applying “150” as the number of major ships, we have 67 fighters per ship.
This is close enough to the known complement of 70 marines per large
dromon (Morrison & Gardiner 1995).

The Battle of Hadat or Adata, 954

The Romanics under Bardas Phocas were routed by Sayf al-Daula of Aleppo at
Hadath (Adata) in the Anti-Taurus mountains NW of Samosata in Northern
Mesopotamia in 954. Phocas senior was dismissed; his son Nikephoros
Phokas, the future emperor, replaces him as general of the army (955)
(Treadgold 1997: 492).

The new Byzantine kataphraktoi, or super-heavy cavalry with fully-armoured

horses, are recorded for the first time at Hadat (McGeer, p.313). And among
the auxiliary troops there were some Viking Rus (‘Varangians’).
At this time also, detachments from the imperial Tagmata were shifted to
the frontiers (McGeer, p.201). Or in c. 959?
Ibn al-Athir in his al-Kamil, an Arab source, mentions the Rus participating
in Rhomaioi military operations for the first time in the year AH 343 (AD 954-
55), when "al-Dumustaq", meaning the domestic [senior general] Bardas
Phocas, led a punitive campaign against the Hamdanid amir of Aleppo, Saif
al-Dawla (al-Kamil fi 't-Ta'rikh, viii, 508, written ca 1231). Ibn al-Athir
enumerates the various groups which served the Roman emperor as
‘mercenaries’ (paid professionals) in the resulting battle of Hadath (Adata):
Bulgarians, Khazars, Slavs [Saqaliba], ‘Russians’ (Rus) and Armenians [“ar-
Rum [imperial Greeks], ar-Rus, al-Bulghar, and others”]. The poet Mutanabbi
likewise mentions Russians in Bardas’s army.

The Arab poet al-Mutanabbi on the battle of Hadath: “The enemy

[Byzantines] came at you [Sayf], hauling their weapons as if they travelled on
legless horses. When their ranks caught the light, their swords remained
unseen, since their shirts and turbans [helmets] were also made from steel”
(quoted 2010 at www.princeton.edu/~arabic/poetry/al_mu_to_sayf.html).

Sayf’s Raid into East-Roman Mesopotamia, 956

Sayf conducts a three-week raid (described as follows by Haldon, 2001: 91). It

was a booty-collecting expedition, also designed to cause the Byzantines to
pull back their own raiders who were operating east of Sayf’s seat of Aleppo.
Its object was the district of Anzitene, old southern Armenia, recently
incorporated into the imperial theme of Mesopotamia.
In April 956 Sayf led a force of cavalry and mounted infantrymen NE to
Harran (Carrhae: SE of Urfa/Edessa, north of today’s Syrian-Turkish border)
and thence NNE into the marchlands of Anzitene around Hisn Arqanin
(modern Ergani, NW of Amida or Diyabakir). Learning of this, the local
Byzantine commander departed Amida, where he was on campaign, and
began a march back to Anzitene.
The nearest major imperial base to where Sayf was camped was quite
distant, at Arsamosata (*) (Arabic Shamshat, modern Haraba, just east of
Elazig), held by the Romaics since 939. So Sayf was able to ravage and


plunder safely around Ergani. At one stage Sayf himself led a detachment
further NW, via the sources of the Tigris, to the provincial capital of Harput or
Kharput itself (the hill is called Harput, the fortress was known as Ziata or
Ziyad). The absent Byzantine governor’s residence was burned.

(*) In far upper Mesopotamia, where the Euphrates runs past (around)
the sources of the Tigris. Arsamosata is not to be confused with
Samosata, a different town. Historically distinct sites, today the one
town subsumes 1 Harput, 2 modern Elazig itself and, a little to the east,
3 Arsamosata.

Next the Muslims raiders turned south to the East-Roman fortress of Dadima
[Gk Dadimon, modern Tadim, 15 km from Harput], to which they briefly laid
siege. At this point Sayf learnt that the Byzantines had occupied the passes in
his SE that he was expected to retire by, i.e. around the lake of Hazar Golu.
So on 23 May, to deceive the enemy, he instead travelled south from
Arsamosata and crossed through the pass of Baq’saya to the west of Ergani.
A small Rhomaike force that blocked his way was driven off. And by 25 May
he was back at Amida to a hero’s welcome.

The Conquest of Crete, 960-61

In July 960, Nicephorus Phocas, Domestic of the East (his brother Leo was
Domestic of the West), sailed from Phygela, modern Kusadasi, the mainland
port opposite Samos, leading a massive attack on Crete [Arabic Ikritis]. The
landing took place probably at Almyros, west of the capital city of Chandax or
Candia (al-Khanaq, modern Heraklion: notes to Leo Diac., trans. Talbot &
Sullivan, 2005: 61). The fighting was interrupted by the winter of 960-61. The
island was eventually captured in 961: Candia held out for eight months, until
7 March 961. The emir ‘Kouroupas’ [‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Shuayb] and his son
‘Anemas’ [Al-Numan ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz] were captured.
The new super-heavy cavalry (clibanophoroi) played a key role in this

Some of the ships had ramps called klimakes, ‘gangways’, that opened out to
allow the troops and horses to land. Since this startled the Arabs, it was
possibly a new invention, or re-invention (Leo the Deacon 7.20-21, trans.
Talbot and Sullivan pp.40, 61; Dromon p.308).

The sources claim, most improbably, that "3,308" or “3,360” (sic!) vessels of
all sizes were involved; but the figure of “24,000” (fighting) men is
credible [just 17% of the enrolled army]. Leo Diaconus, I.3, says that
Nicephorus embarked “the army of Asia”, perhaps implying that no troops
from the European provinces took part.
One source says the number of marines and soldiers and oarsmen
together (both navy men and civilians) together was a quite credible 77,000
men (Treadgold, State p.495). This was equivalent to about 40% of the entire
armed forces of the empire, but, as explained below, many of the seamen


must have been civilians rowing requisitioned civilian vessels.

In the chronicles of Symeon Magister and the anonymous Continuer of

Theophanes, we are told that in 961 the fleet gathered at Phygela—modern
Kusadasi on the Ionian coast east of Samos—to take part in the reconquest of
Crete by Nikephoros Phokas. It consisted of 1,000 dromons and 2,000 fire-
throwing chelandia or war-galleys; but in truth, as noted above, probably
most were requisitioned civilian galleys or transport sail-boats.
“Although originally in the 9th century the [wider] chelandion was a
different type of ship from the [narrower] dromon, both terms came to be
used later for the same vessel, as Basileios Parakoimomenos [Basil the Lord
Chamberlain] attests in his On Naval Warfare (2nd half of the 10th century).”
http://neobyzantine.agrino.org/byzantium/army/navy4.htm -
In naval engagements the battle began when the boats were still at a
distance. Apart from the Greek fire, the ships would catapult each other with
clay pots full of flammable material or snakes and scorpions. If the ships
remained undamaged, they approached each other firing arrows and hurling

The ships supposedly comprised 2,000 [sic!] siphonophores - siphon-armed

galleys equipped with Greek Fire, which Leo calls “Median fire”—many of
which were no doubt small; 1,000 heavy transports and troopships; and 308
supply ships, more than twice as many as in 949 or 911 (Heath 1976: 13). Or
as Pryor and Jeffreys have it: 2,000 chelandia (fighting-transports) equipped
with Greek Fire; 1,000 dromons, i.e. pure combat vessels; and 360 karabia or
transports (Dromon p.408). Many of lesser craft would have been
requisitioned private vessels. Cf the Sicilian expedition of 964-65: most or all
of the soldiers and their weapons on that occasion were transported in what
Leo Diac. IV:7 calls “large merchantmen”.
Now we know that the total number of oarsmen enrolled in the navy at this
time was 34,200 (Treadgold, Army p.197). There were of course warships of
differing sizes, but if we use an average of 100 rowers per vessel, this was
only enough oarsmen to man 342 ships. The remaining 2,966 to 3,018
vessels had to have been rowed by civilian sailors.
Pryor & Jeffreys, p.408, have proposed, no doubt rightly, that 3,000+
vessels is an ‘inflated’ figure. Indeed Treadgold 1997: 495 says that the
number of warships was “307” and there were only “hundreds” of small craft.
Let us imagine there were 53,000 rowers (77,000 less 24,000 fighters =
53,000 rowers). If the 307 warships required an average of 150 rowers per
ship ( = 22,500 navy men: fully 66% of the navy), then there may have been
as many as 1,220 small civilian-manned craft (30,500 / 25 = 1,220) in the
expedition. No doubt some of the latter were pure sail-boats.

A very large fleet—supposedly 3,300+ ships: 2,000 warships and the rest
filled with horses, supplies, machinery and Greek Fire— gathered at Phrygela
in Asia Minor opposite Samos. In July 960 Phokas sailed (his oarsmen rowed)
in full force for Crete, disembarking at the Bay of Halmyros or Almyros, where
he gave battle at once. He drew the army up in three divisions (left, centre
and right) and they attacked the Arabs who faced them in a shield-wall (Leo
Diac. 1:3). The Arabs were defeated and almost at once shut themselves


behind the walls of Fort Handakas (Chandax, Candia: today’s Iraklion on the
central-northern coast).
According to Leo Diac. I:7, at one point—presumably late in 960—Phokas
defeated an Arab army of “40,000” men, a number that is not credible.
After an excruciating eight month blockade (due to a severe winter and
famine), Phokas broke through (undermined) the fort's walls in March 961.
Trebuchets and a battering ram were deployed, but it was undermining by
sappers that allowed the walls to be breached (Leo Diac. II:7).

Again there was a victory celebration. Nicephorus was received by Romanus

II in a celebration evidently modelled on Procopius's 6th century description
of Belisarius' triumphal progress (McCormick p.168; Leo Diac. II:8).

The Campaign in Cilicia and Syria, 962-63

With a very large army, generals Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces
campaigned in Cilicia and Syria. They set out in late winter (February) 962
and so had the advantage of surprise. After ravaging through Cilicia, the
imperial forces entered Syria and besieged Sayf al-Dawlah’s’s seat of Aleppo.
The army deployed against Aleppo - about 70,000 men - was
exceptionally large for this period (and indeed any other) and so a tribute to
Byzantine logistics. Presumably large numbers were allied or recently
engaged Christian Armenians. The number of cavalry (30,000) was not much
smaller than the infantry (40,000), whereas in most field armies the
proportion of cavalry tended to be about a third (Treadgold, Army pp.113,
212 and State pp.496, 548).

The lower town was taken (December 962) but its citadel held out: it was
manned by elite Daylami (Iranian) axe-infantrymen.
This is widely regarded as Sayf’s worst defeat.
The scorched-earth policy of the Neo-Romans created a wasteland that cut
Cilicia off from Syria, contributing to the conquest of 965, below.
Nicephoros was returning to Constantinople when he learnt that emperor
Romanus has died (15 March 963) (Leo Diac. II:10).

Adana, 964

Near Adana in Cilicia in 964, a Rhomaioi army led by now emperor

Nicephorus and the generalissimo or ‘Domestic of the Schools [scholae] of
the East’, Ioannes (John) Tzimiskes, met a combined Tarsiot-Cilician force,
whose main body they destroyed. But a cavalry detachment from the
defeated Arab army, numbering 5,000, a large brigade in modern terms,
retreated to a hill. There they dismounted and initially held out against
Tzimiskes’ cavalry. Tzimiskes ordered his men too to dismount, and their
numbers soon overwhelmed the Arabs, who were all remorselessly killed.
They were not offered a chance to surrender, in order to weaken Cilicia for a
further assault the next year (Skylitzes: McGeer p.324).
The East-Romans also burnt the crops in successive years, inducing famine
and starvation in the frontier districts of Syria and Mesopotamia (Yahya of
Antioch, cited in McGeer p.325).


Sicily, 964

Nikephoros II Phokas sent to Sicily an army of supposedly “40,000” men,

mainly Armenians, Thracians (some of whom were Paulicians) and Slavs
(Rus’), under the elderly eunuch patrician Nicetas and Nikephoros’s young
nephew Manuel Phocas. Nicetas held the post of droungarios of the Fleet,
while Manuel was “commander of the cavalry” (Leo Diac. IV:7). They
captured Messina in October 964.

Nicephorus II Phocas sent the Romaic fleet to Sicily under the command of
the navarchos or drungaire (admiral) of the fleet, the eunuch patrician
Nicetas, who was defeated, taken prisoner and imprisoned in what is now
Tunisia (Leo the Deacon 65-67; Cedr. II 360).
Pryor & Jeffreys p.385 list this as one of the more disastrous defeats
suffered by the imperial navy.

Responding to an appeal from the people of Rametta [modern Rometta] in

the NE corner, the last Christian stronghold on the island, the emperor sent
(964 or 965: October 964 is probably the best dating) a “huge” East Roman
force, including a few super-heavy cavalry, to Sicily. This included troops
from Thrace, Armenia and Russia (Slavs and Viking ‘Rus). Most or all of the
soldiers and their weapons were transported in what Leo Diac. IV:7 calls
“large merchantmen”. Siege machines too were taken in specialised
The expedition lands near Messina and captures it but is “crushed” (964 or
965) in an ambush by the Kalbites (Muslims) at nearby Rametta. On 25
October a fierce battle between the Byzantines and the Kalbids resulted in a
defeat for the former. Manuel himself was killed in the fray (or rather:
captured and beheaded), along with “10,000” of his men. The emperor had
great affection for Nicetas, the brother of Michael his protovestiary or Master
of the Wardrobe, the patrician praepositus and vestes, and he ransomed
The Muslims then take the town of Rametta by storm (Ahmad p.31; Loud in
NCMH vol 3 p.611; Rodriquez dates this to 963-64).
The Kalbidi dynasty, also called “Kalbids”, ruled Sicily from 947 to 1040.
Ruler in 964: Hassan al-Kalbi, r. 948-964; he dies during the siege of Rametta.

Luitprand of Cremona, the Italian who served the German kings on several
embassies to Constantinople, writes thus: “[the galleys of] the Saracens …
engaged in battle near Scylla and Charybdis in the Sicilian waters [i.e. near
the northern end of the Strait of Messina] with the patrician Manuel, the
nephew of Nicephorus. And when they had laid low his immense forces - they
took his own self and beheaded him and hung up his corpse. And when they
had captured his companion and colleague [admiral Nicetas], who was of
neither gender [a eunuch], they scorned to kill him; but having bound him
and kept him to pine in long imprisonment, they sold him [to the emperor’s
agents] for a price at which no mortals who were sound in their heads would
have bought him. And with no less spirit, encouraged by this same prophecy,
they shortly after met the general Exachontes [sic].* And when they had put


him to flight, they destroyed his army in every way.”

(*) In Greek exarchontes means ‘leaders’. It was perhaps a title; it is

mentioned as such in Constantine’s De Cerem..

Conquest of Muslim Cilicia, 965

The Empire launched an invasion of east Cilicia and Syria in 965. Following a
“grand assault”, Nicephorus Phocas, known to the Arabs as Naqfur b. al-
Fuqas, takes – by surrender – the “impregnable” double-walled Tarsus,
capital of Cilicia. The elite striking force was the emperor’s new regiment of
super-heavy cavalry ('kataphraktoi').

Combined-arms were well deployed at Tarsus: “The emperor himself led out
from the camp the bravest and most robust soldiers, and arranged the
divisions on the battlefield, deploying the ironclad horsemen [clibanarii or
heavy cataphracts] in the van, and ordering the archers and slingers to shoot
at the enemy from behind. He himself took his position on the right wing,
bringing with him a vast squadron of [ordinary] cavalrymen, while John, who
had the sobriquet Tzimiskes, and was honoured with the rank of doux, fought
on the left”. The Tarsans took flight and retreated behind the walls of their
fortress-town. —Leo Diaconus (2005 trans p.107).


Above: Svyatoslav I's meeting with Emperor John Tzimiskes, as

described by Leo the Deacon, illustrated by Klavdiy Lebedev, d.1916.
Here again the emperor’s image is based on the famous miniature of
Basil II. The plainly dressed, shaven-headed Prince of Kiev is as Leo
describes him. As one would expect from a Slav artist, the Greek
emperor looks suitably arrogant.

The Northern Campaign of John Tzimiskes, 971

A new and ambitious Viking-Russian prince, SVJATOSLAV, began his foreign

career as an ally of emperor Nikephoros Phokas, who he helped against the


Bulgarians (967). Unwisely, however, Svjatoslav conceived the idea of seizing

Bulgaria. He demanded moreover that the Rhomaioi should withdraw from
Europe and retire to Asia Minor.
This was a silly proposition, because under Nikephoros the Rhomaioi had
recovered their confidence and then some. The new Basileus or emperor,
Ioannes (John) Tzimiskes, r. 969-76, answered Svjatoslav with a powerful fleet
and a large army of lancers and bowmen. As we relate in detail below, the
emperor marched out with 30-40,000 men, supported by a fleet of 300 ships
in the Black Sea. In 971 (or 972) he drove the Viking-Russians from the
Bulgarian capital and engaged them and their allies (Bulgarians, Magyars and
the Turkish Pechenegs) in a pitched battle at Silistria, modern Dristra, on the
lower Danube.
On this campaign, Tzimiskes led probably about 40,000 men in all:
probably 4,000 of the new tagma of the Immortals or Athanatoi – created in
970 - who were kataphraktoi or extra-heavy cavalry; 13,000 other cavalry;
15,000 “heavy-armed” infantry; and several thousand support troops. Or
“30,000” land troops if we follow Haldon, 2001: 99. They were backed-up by
a fleet of "over 300" boats and ships—grain transports as well as combat
vessels—that sailed up the Danube (Leo Diac. VIII:1).

The Byzantine war manuals prescribed that when marching in enemy

territory, the infantry, marching in three lines or columns, should be
surrounded on all sides by cavalry. Further out were small numbers of cavalry
outriders or flank scouts. In open country this meant that the main body
comprised three lines of infantry flanked on either side by one line of cavalry.
The emperor or commander rode with a second line of cavalry, behind the
cavalry vanguard and immediately ahead of the infantry. The baggage train
[Greek touldon] (*) was in the very middle with the infantry (Haldon,
Byzantium at War p.53).

(*) A 10th-century treatise says there could be as many as 1,086 pack-

animals for the imperial household baggage. Three Treatises, ss. 392-
394 - Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Three Treatises on Imperial Military
Expeditions. Introduction, text, translation, commentary; Corpus
Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, vol. 28, Vienna 1990.
A relatively light load per mule would be 60 kg; so 1,086 mules could
easily carry 65 metric tons. This would include disassembled small siege

First, Tzimiskes ordered supply boats to take grain, fodder and weapons by
river to Adrianople (Leo Diac.VII:9).
Browning comments, explaining the achievements of Tzimiskes and Basil
II: "this [= imperial troops landed by ship in the enemy's rear] more than
anything else contributed to the collapse of Bulgarian power and the
establishment of East Roman rule in Moesia and Thrace after a gap of three
centuries" (p.139).

Next Tzimiskes advanced (April 971) through the Balkan mountains and
caught Svyatoslav by surprise. While the latter rested in Dristria (Silistria),
the Byzantines assaulted Preslav, the Bulgarian capital, now a Russian-held


garrison-town. The Immortals were prominent in a battle fought as the

Romaics approached the town. Ordered to attack the enemy’s left wing,
“they held their spears before them” as they charged. It is said that “8,500”
Rus’ died in this clash but some escaped to join Svyatoslav at Silistria (Leo
Diac. VIII:4; Haldon 2001: 99).
‘Catapults’, i.e. rope-pulled trebuchets, were used against the walls, or at
least against the men (*) defending the walls; and then flame-throwers
(Greek fire, called “Median fire” by Leo the Deacon) against the tower to
which the defenders retreated. The East-Romans got inside the city, but there
“more than 7,000” enemy soldiers made a last stand; imperial troops –
presumably archers - led by Bardas Skeleros “shot them all down” (Leo Diac.
Among those captured was the Russian-allied Bulgarian tsar Boris.

(*) It is thought that early trebuchets were an anti-personnel weapon,

not being powerful enough to batter through walls (see McGeer, ‘Siege’

Tzimiskes then marched on Dristria or Silistria, Gk Dorystolon, on the lower

Danube north of Preslav. The imperial forces established a base camp where
the baggage and siege trains were drawn up in a defensive position with a
small detachment to guard them. Svyatoslav drew up his large infantry army
outside the town walls.
Tzimiskes' Rhomaioi faced a mainly infantry army of some “60,000” Viking-
Rus, Slavs, Pechenegs and Magyars (numbers obviously over-stated). While
“60,000” is not credible, plainly it was a large force. We may imagine the two
armies as being about equal in size (Talbot and Sullivan’s translation of Leo,
pp.40, 179; also Skylitzes, cited by McGeer p.343; Treadgold Army p.114 and
State p.509; Haldon 2001: 99).
Leo the Deacon, the future historian, was present during this campaign as
secretary to the Emperor. He records that the Rus’ or Russians carried long
shields “the height of a man” (“they reached to their feet”) and many wore
mail coats. His reference to “chain mail breastplates” may indicate that many
wore a fairly basic kind of armour. Almost all were infantry, and, having
drawn up in close order, they advanced with levelled spears. Bows, javelins
and swords were also used (Leo, cited in Davidson 1976: 115; trans Talbot &
Sullivan p.40).
As we shall see, the shield-wall of the northerners was weakened and
disorganised by Byzantine infantry archers, but according to Heath it still
managed to repulse 12 (!) successive charges by the imperial cavalry. A
windstorm then blew up a cloud of dust and the Rus and their allies were
ridden down in a final charge led by the emperor in person. Eastern Bulgaria
was annexed to the empire.

In the account given by the Russian Primary Chronicle, after some desperate
fighting the Neo-Roman cavalry broke the Russian line and the Rus retreated
into the town. The imperial cavalry deployed their iron maces to good
effect.The East-Roman ships meanwhile had arrived in the Danube; they
blockaded both banks, preventing an escape by the besieged northerners.
Several sallies by the Russians were defeated by the superior Byzantine


cavalry, and Svyatoslav decided to die fighting (although in fact he survived).

Leo’s account is somewhat different, but must be preferred, as he was an

eye-witness. He says that the Romaic super-heavy cavalry (“iron-clad
horsemen”) were placed on, or rather behind (*) both wings, while other
Byzantines formed the centre of the line. Foot archers and slingers were
placed behind and ordered to maintain steady fire (Leo Diac. VIII: 9-10).

(*) That is to say, Tzimiskes held back two large regiments of super-heavy
cavalry (Talbot & Sullivan: appendix to their translation of Leo the Deacon’s
History, and their map 5: 2005, p.229, which draws on Haldon’s map at 2001:
102). The front line comprised most of the infantry (perhaps 10,000 men) in
the centre with all the ordinary cavalry on either flank (say 6,500 left and
6,500 right). There was a second line made up of a smaller body of infantry
archers and slingers (say 5,000) with the two heavy cavalry regiments
(presumably 2,000 left and 2,000 right) hidden from view behind the ordinary
cavalry in front.

The decisive moment came when Tzimiskes ordered the heavy cavalry to ride
out and around to attack the northerners’ flanks.

In the first phase, Leo says that the Russian attack or attacks involved the
use of javelins and arrows against the Byzantines’ horses, followed by a
general advance leading to hand-to-hand combat. The battle seemed to be
going in the favour of the ‘barbarians’. But the Neo-Romans rallied and after
several hours of fighting, neither side was prepared to give way.
A cavalry assault, or several assaults, described by Leo as an encircling
movement, led to an imperial victory. As we have said, Tzimiskes ordered the
heavy cavalry to ride out and around to attack the northerners’ flanks. At the
same time the East-Roman heavy infantry in the centre made a renewed
push. The northerners then broke and retreated into the fortress town behind
The day after the first battle, the imperial fleet arrived up the Danube on
the other side of Silitria, sealing the fate of the northerners. But the
‘barbarians’ were ready to fight on to the death, and, as Haldon presents it,
they sallied out on several occasions over the next few days to fight further
pitched battles with the imperials, each ending with victory for the
Byzantines (2001: 103-04).
It has been proposed (by Heath, Dark Ages) that the shield-wall of the
northerners was gradually weakened and disorganised by Byzantine infantry
archers, but still managed to repulse 12 (!) successive charges by the
imperial cavalry. (One is reminded here of the battle of Hastings.) For Haldon
these many charges were incidents in a series of battles rather than just
episodes in the one battle.
In the final battle, fought according to Leo on 24 July 971, the Romaics
came near to defeat until the intervention of a rainstorm (divinely sent of
course) allowed them to prevail. A storm broke, producing clouds of rising
dust and blinding rain: the Byzantines rallied and in a 13th charge the Rus


gave way. The heavy cavalry of the newly created tagma of the Athanatoi
was prominent in this last charge, possibly led by emperor John himself. The
wounded Svyatoslav barely managed to escape alive (Leo Diac. VIII:9-10;
Davidson 1976: 144 ff; McGeer; Haldon 2001: 104).
Leo claimed that ”15,000” Russians died in this battle but only “350”
Byzantines; and “20,000” barbarian shields were collected. Altogether in the
campaign “38,000” northerners died, leaving “22,000” survivors to be fed -
as part of the treaty of surrender - by the East-Roman grain-ships (IX:10-11).

The emperor agreed after the battle to a meeting with Svyatoslav on the
Danube. Svyatoslav and a handful of other blond men, naked to the waist, (*)
arrived in ‘canoes’, i.e. boats with oars and a sail built from a single large
tree-trunk (Greek monoxyla, Slavic lodya). Leo describes the pagan Rus’ king
as clean shaven except for a broad moustache on his upper lip; his head was
bald - shaven in Slav style - except for a lock of hair on one side, a token of
his noble birth. (Returning thence towards Kiev, the Rus’ king was ambushed
and killed at the cataracts of the Dneiper by Pecheneg Turks who made his
skull into a drinking cup …).

(*) Cf Vladimir Putin AD 2005-10!

(**) Layers of planking were secured to the hull to increase its height,
and oars were affixed to the planking. A single mast with a square sail
made the lodya seaworthy, and it was light enough, when the need
arose, for overland portage. Although it seldom exceeded 20 metres in
length, a lodya often held a crew of 40.

Syria, 995

Emperor Basil II personally led a lightning campaign in the East. He repelled

the Fatimid threat to the Byzantine protectorate of Aleppo. - The journey,
which normally took 60* days, was accomplished in a quarter of the time, i.e.
15* days. But only 17,000 of the “40,000” men who set out reached Aleppo
within that time (Treadgold 1997: 521).

(*) The average marching rate was 20-21 km per day for a large
combined infantry-cavalry army. So, 60 days = up to 1,260 km. And 15
days = 84 km p.d. But the upper limit for crack infantry marching on
foot was 40 km/day for perhaps just a week. We can deduce from this
that the fast-travelling 17,000 who reached Syria first were all cavalry
and mounted infantry on horses and mules. Cf historical marching rates
cited by Haldon in Pryor 2006: 141.

The Fatimids had put Aleppo under siege. It was now an East-Roman
protectorate, so its amir appealed to Basil. Putting his troops, or some of
them, on mule-back (presumably more rode horses than rode mules), Basil
rushed to Aleppo's defense. The Fatimids were defeated and fled back to
Basil II launched a campaign against the Muslim Arabs and won several
battles in Syria, relieving Aleppo, taking over the Orontes valley, and raiding


further south. Although he did not have the force, or not the inclination, to
drive into Palestine and reclaim Jerusalem, his victories did restore much of
Syria to the empire. No emperor since Heraclius had been able to hold these
lands for any length of time, and they would remain Byzantine for the next 75
years (Wikipedia ‘Basil II’, accessed 2010).
To drive home his superiority, Basil sacked Emesa [today’s Hims or Homs:
about halfway from Aleppo to Damascus], and raided as far south as Tripoli
before heading back west to face Bulgarian issues.
Holmes: “Basil rarely campaigned in the East. Even in 995 and 999-1000
his interest was focused on using force to compel his neighbours to accept
treaties and alliances. After 1000 local potentates supervised by the
[Byzantine] dux of Antioch were used to police the frontier.” Cf next: fear of

Spercheios, 997

The Skylitzes Manuscript has an illustration of the battle of Spercheios River,

fought in 996 or 997 in Thessaly, showing the East-Roman cavalry with
lamellar or scale armour corselets, small shields and conical helmets without
neck-guards (aventails). But this text dates to the 1100s, and may not reflect
the arms and armour of the 10th C.

The two armies were separated by the river, which the Bulgarian tsar Samuel
did not believe was fordable. Hence the Bulgarian camp was imperfectly
defended. Scouts sent out by the Byzantine commander Nicephorus Uranus
managed to find a fordable stretch and the Byzantines crossed over during
the night, surprising the Bulgarians in their unfortified camp. Samuel and his
son were both badly wounded, and the greater part of the Bulgarian
expedition was either killed or captured (Haldon 2001: 107; Luttwak p.376).
Holmes 2005: 349 calls the victory “unexpected but convincing”, and it
established Nikephoros’ reputation.
Holmes, ‘DIR’ website: “The strongest evidence for Byzantine weakness
during the 990s comes, paradoxically, from the crushing victory that Basil's
close associate Nicephorus Uranus achieved over Samuel at the river
Spercheius (close to Thermopylae) in 997. The unexpected glee, relief and
surprise that Uranus’s victory at Spercheius caused among his circle of
correspondents, including Leo, Metropolitan of Synada, reflect just how
dangerous Byzantines believed the Bulgarians to be.”

Here is the full extract from Skylitzes: “Samuil set out against Thessalonica
and deployed the main part of his army in ambushes and traps, and he sent
only a small part on an incursion to Thessalonica itself … Samuil camped on
the opposite bank. Because of the torrential rains, the river rose and caused
floods, so that no battle was expected at that moment. The (East-Roman)
magister [Nicephorus’ court title], however, by inspecting the upper and
lower reaches of the river, found a place through which he thought he could
cross. In the night, having roused his troops, he crossed the river and
attacked Samuil’s soldiers in their carefree sleep. A very large number of
them [or “the better part of them”” Lutwak p.376] were massacred, without
anybody thinking of defence. Samuil himself and his son Roman were


wounded, receiving grave wounds, and would have been taken prisoners, had
they not mixed with the dead, lying as though dead.
When night fell, they secretly fled [west] towards the Aetolian Mountains
[i.e. into today’s west central Greece] and from there, across the peaks of
these mountains, crossed the Pindus [to the north] and took refuge in
Bulgaria.(*) And the magister, after freeing the East-Romans who had been
taken prisoners, and stripping the Bulgarians who had fallen, looted the
enemy camp, and with very rich booty returned to Thessalonica with his

(*) In this period the West Bulgarian capital was at Ochrid in modern
FYROM near the present-day intersection point of Albania, Greece and

Despite the victory of Nikephoros Ouranos over tsar Samuel at the

Spercheios River in Thessaly (996 or 997), the struggle was indecisive. Basil
tried to attract the Serbs as allies against the tsar (says G. Ostrogorsky,
Byzantion 19 [1949] 187-94) and made generous promises to Bulgarian

The Battle of Kleidion or Belasitsa or Campu-lungu, 1014

Marching from Macedonia, emperor Basil II launched a further campaign

against the Bulgarians. He achieved victory near Cimbalongus or Campu
lungu, NW of Serres, inland from Thessalonica (1014). This was followed by
several mass blindings of defeated Bulgarian troops, or such was the latter-
day account. Many modern historians doubt the stories about mass blindings.

The Battle of Kleidion or Clidium, "the little key", or the Battle of Belasitsa,
took place on 29 July 1014. The plain was called Campu lungu; the pass was
called Kleidon or “little key”; and the key mountain was Mt Belasitsa,
medieval “Belasica”.
The border inretection poist of today’s FYROM, Greece and Bulgaria is
lcoated in the Belasitsa or Belasica Range which runs west-east for about 40
km. The town of Strumica or Stroumitsa (in our FYROM) lies near its NW end,
and Petrich (modern Bulgaria) near the NE end. Thus the plain of ‘Campu-
lungu’ [Romance: “long plain”, Greekified as kimbalongou] would seem to
have been the plain around Irakleia inside present-day Greece, south of
Petrich, NW of Serres. That is to say, the wide river-valley of the middle
Strymon River, east of Kerkini Lake [Limni Kerkinis] (Haldon 2001:107).
Mt Belasitsa is located near the border-point of present-day Bulgaria,
Greece and FYROM. The modern-day town of Petrich lies just inside our
Bulgaria. The pass itself, according to Haldon 2001:107, was near the modern
village of Kljuc.
Basil attacked from the front plain in our Greece (the south), while
Nicephorus Xiphias, the strategos of Philippopolis, took other troops
westwards a little and then north through the range past Mt Belasitsa and
ambushed the Bulgarians from behind, trapping them in the defile.

In Skylitzes the battle is described thus:


“Knowing that the emperor always made his incursions through [the plain
known as] Campu Lungu [Kiava Longus] and [the pass known as] Kleidion
('the key'), he [tsar Samuel] undertook to fortify the difficult terrain to deny
the emperor access. A wall [timber palisade] was built across the whole width
[of the pass] and worthy defenders were committed to it to stand against the
emperor. When he [Basil] arrived and made an attempt to enter [Bulgaria],
the [Bulgarian] guards defended the wall manfully and bombarded and
wounded the [imperial] attackers from above.
When the emperor had thus despaired of gaining passage, Nikephoros
Xiphias, the strategos of Philippopolis, met with the emperor and urged him
to stay put and continue to assault the wall, while, as he explained, he turned
back with his men and, heading round to the south of Kleidion through rough
and trackless country, crossed [past] the very high mountain known as
Valasitza [Slavic Belasica]. (The translation in Luttwak p.193 speaks of “goat-
paths and trackless wastes”.)
On 29 July in the 12th indiction [1014], they [Xiphias and his men]
descended suddenly on the Bulgarians, from behind and screaming battle
cries. Panic stricken by the sudden assault, [the Bulgarians] turned to flee,
while the emperor broke [from the other side] through [or “dismantled”] the
abandoned wall. Many [Bulgarians] fell and many more were captured;
Samuel barely escaped from danger with the aid of his son, who fought nobly
against his attackers, placed him on a horse, and made for the fortress
known as Prilapos [Prilep]”.
Prilep is west of Strumica, in today’s south-central FYROM, the ‘Former
Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia’ and over 100 km from Petrich.

The Church of St. Leontius from the 11th century is the most famous
historical monument around Strumica. The locals also call it Vodocha, which
means ‘poking eyes’: vadi-ochi. The legend states that it was here that the
14,000 soldiers were blinded by the Byzantine Emperor Basil II (source:
website faq.macedonia.org/travel/cities/strumica.html). Presumably the
pursuing Byzantine army overtook the fleeing Bulgarians near Strumica.

Skylitzes again: “And so, having taken his soldiers . . . , all of a sudden, with
cries and noise, he [Xiphias] appeared on high ground in the rear of the
Bulgarians. Terrified by his sudden appearance, they fled. The Emperor
destroyed the abandoned palisade and began to pursue them. Many were
slain and many more were captured. Samuil was barely saved from death by
his son, who valiantly warded off the attackers. He put him on a horse and
led him [west] to the fortress called Prilep. And the Emperor blinded the
captive Bulgarians, about 15,000 so they say, ordering each group of 100 to
be led by a soldier with one eye, and thus sent them to Samuil. When the
latter saw them coming in rows of equal numbers he could not stand this
suffering courageously and in silence, but became unwell, fainted and fell to
the ground.”

The blinding of up to "14 or 15,000"* of their troops in 1014 is said to have

effectively crippled the Bulgarians; so presumably they had begun with an
enrolled army strength of over 25,000. Treadgold offers as a guess “33,000”
men: Army p.84.


(*) Stephenson: “Such a large number has to be questioned, although an

independent source of the same period, Kekaumenos, provides some
corroboration. We know that the Bulgarians fought on for four more years, so
their forces cannot have been so depleted. Moreover, Skylitzes qualifies his
own account with the aside “they say” (phasi), which is an indication that the
huge figure was drawn from a popular story and was subject to scrutiny even
by contemporaries.” —Paul Stephenson,
http://homepage.mac.com/paulstephenson/trans.html; accessed 2010; also
his paper in Magdalino ed. 2003: 131.

Judith Herrin 2007: 218 likewise argues that the blindings were “mythical”,
proposing that Samuel’s death in 1014 was a convenient peg on which later
writers could hang a tale of mass blindings. She sees Kleidon as a second-
rank battle, not a decisive event, and emphasises that the epithet ‘Bulgar-
Slayer’ was not coined in Basil’s lifetime. Moreover it is hard to see that the
defence of one defile would require 15,000 men.
For Stephenson the true number is less important than the fact that Basil
was believed to have blinded many hundreds of men (loc. cit.).

Basil then advanced (1015) further west to the enemy capital Ohrid, where
he wins a major victory and sacks the town. In the north, Serdica (modern
Sofia) was besieged and taken in 1016.
“Bulgaria, long the only power in the Balkans that rivalled Byzantium, had
utterly collapsed”: Treadgold 1997: 528.



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