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Book Reviews : John Haldon, Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World, 565-1204 (in the series Warfare and History), London, UCL Press, 1999, pp. x + 389
Peter Hoppenbrouwers The Medieval History Journal 2000 3: 387 DOI: 10.1177/097194580000300211 The online version of this article can be found at:

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somewhat brief conclusion, Om Prakash has confined the discussion on the growing ascendancy of the English company in the latter half of the eighteenth century, to the conventional format revolving around the withering away of the Indian authority system and to the Plassey sweepstakes. Om Prakash has also done limited justice to the Indian merchant who zealously checked the Europeans from gaining control of the internal market. In this substantial volume, there is only one reference to Virji Vora, none to the legendary brokers of Surat, and none to Kasi Viranna who dominated trade in the Coromandel in the late seventeenth century. Om Prakash’s writing belongs to the genre of solid hardware craftsmanship. His unflagging handling of figures, statistics and tables is indeed quite awesome, likely to tease the lay reader and challenge the initiated. In sum, it is a meticulous and thorough work, based on sound scholarship; it is impressive, yet somewhat dissatisfying at the same time.

Yogesh Sharma Centre for Historical Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

John Haldon, Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World, 565-1204 (in the series Warfare and History), London, UCL Press, 1999, pp. x + 389.
More than half a millennium after its extinction, the Byzantine army is

still well served. Within the past decade, three major new books reflecting on it were published in the English language alone: Mark Bartusis’s study covering the later period (1204-1453), followed by Warren Treadgold’s and John Haldon’s books which both more or less deal with the preceding 750 years. It means that Haldon has something to explain. What did Treadgold leave out that still deserves the kind of thorough treatment that one can expect of such an outstanding Byzantinologist as Haldon here again proves to be? Haldon himself is quite clear about this: Treadgold ignored ’the issue of how the army fits into society in general’ (p. 3)-which is a substantial comment to make in view of the

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fact that about one-third of Treadgold’s book is dedicated to ’the army and society’ and ’the army and the state’. What Haldon probably meant s was that his book delves deeper in several respects than Treadgold’s more compact monograph (in fact a pre-study to his monumental History of the Byzantine State and Society of 1997). On the other hand, Treadgold did relieve Haldon of the duty of opening with a factual overview of Byzantine military history. For that, the first chapter of Treadgold’s book remains mandatory reading. Haldon’s opening chapter sheds light on the fairly uncommon theme (and for a former Marxist historian a rather surprising one to start with) of the Byzantinian ideology of peace and war. Equally uncommon, but banished to the last, rather medley-like chapter, are topics such as the literary representation of war, the social identity of the military, and social differentiation within the army. By covering such untrodden ground, Haldon indeed delivers what he promises, even if some topics
that suggest themselves to anyone interested in Byzantine history are not touched upon at all. Among these I noted specifically: the policing function of the army in a relatively advanced state that had no internal police force; the influence of the Byzantine Church and its clergy on military affairs; and the part played by the military in the countless and often bloody coups d’état that characterised much of Byzantine history. However, it is always easy to criticise authors for what they have not written about, and Haldon’s book is tremendously rich in what it does offer. The extensive middle section (Chapters 5 and 6) tells a really fascinating story about how the Byzantine Empire succeeded in managing fairly large-scale operations like keeping an army of, say, 10,000 men and several thousand horses and mules for several weeks on the move. Even to a twenty-first century mind, the logistics are dazzling. These involved the organisation of compulsory purchases and levies, statesupervised manufacturing of arms and equipment, and stud farming; the provisioning of stores at regular intervals on marching routes with food, fodder, fuel, remounts and the like. And this concerned only the organisation from the outside. The field commanders in their turn had to deal with head-spinning logistics and communication problems of their own-ranging from the setting up of encampments to intelligence gathering, scouting and spying. On all these topics, and many more, Haldon has brought together a wealth of data, which to my taste should have been spiced up now and then by tailpieces of an appealing commander-one could think of John Kourkouas or Philaretos Brachamiusor by treating in more detail some of the great battles of Byzantine

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history (ironically, all the ones that spring to mind-Yarmuk, Mantzikert, Dyrrachium, Myriokephalon-were lost by the Byzantines). But Haldon’s story, as it is, makes us realise how enormous the impact of war and the military was, not only in terms of the high level of administrative and fiscal organisation that it required from early medieval governments, but also, and more directly, on the populations that had to bear the brunt of passing, or warring, armies on their territory. Even the orderly presence of a field army could completely dislocate local economies in crucial periods of the year (late spring or early summer, as well as early autumn were the preferred campaigning seasons) and the art of the quaestura exercitus-the Byzantine Ministry of War-was always to try and involve wealthier regions in the supply of far-away theatres of

Of course, warfare, the cutting edge of technological development in many societies, did not remain unchanged during the long period that Haldon has taken into consideration. From a military-historical point of view, the way in which armies worked was transformed along with changes in both tactics and strategy. An unlucky choice made by Haldon has been to treat these separately: long-term strategy in Chapter 2; concrete strategic arrangements in Chapter 3; and tactics distributed over Chapters 5 and 6. This design leads to repetitions that could have been avoided by offering an integrated discussion covering the three large operational fields on which the Byzantine army was active: first, regular border defence; second, repulsing of invading armies; third, offensive actions on enemy territory. A hotly debated issue is whether even highly militarised early states, such as the Roman Empire and its eastern successor, were capable of consciously developing a ’grand strategy’ covering all such fields of action just mentioned, and, in addition, implementing it in relation to changing geophysical and political realities. Haldon is rather elusive about this. On the one hand he avoids using the term ’grand strategy’ and prefers to speak of long-term strategic goals that slowly ’evolved’, while on the other he suggests that Byzantine foreign policy always involved a certain degree of strategic masterminding (see mainly
pp. 60-66). According to Haldon, until the end of the twelfth century, long-term strategy was anyhow nothing but a series of variants of the well-known ’defence in depth’ strategy of the late Roman Empire, based on a division

of the armed forces between mobile field armies stationed well behind permeable ’zonal’ frontiers, and less mobile border garrisons. In its ’classical’ Diocletian/Constantinian form it was more or less main-

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tained until about 630, and was taken up again between the second half of the tenth century and the first quarter of the eleventh century, when the Byzantines even succeeded in re-establishing a linear frontier at the Danube. However, during the longer stretch of the period covered by Haldon’s book-between, say, 630 and 960, and soon after 1025-’defence in depth’ had to be given up for an (even) more defensive stance, which Haldon aiiernaiiveiy defines as ‘soft defence’ and ’policy of avoidance’. The latter term means that any large-scale conflicts-and certainly pitched battles with large invading armies-were avoided. This end was reached mainly through two means: first by a type of guerrilla warfare which Byzantine strategic manuals called ’skirmishing warfare’ (velitatio in Latin) undertaken by small mobile units operating from numerous small fortresses in sparsely populated but highly militarised border zones; and second by constantly backing up military action with diplomacy in order to contain escalation. This is a very sketchy outline and Haldon quite realises that there have always been essential differences between the Anatolian/Syrian and Balkan/Danube frontiers that have to be taken into account when discussing Byzantine long-term strategy. The same goes for sea power. Byzantine naval superiority until the end of the eleventh century had been an important factor in keeping the empire together, and any long-term strategic planning must have incorporated considerations with regard to the war fleet. If something like a ’grand strategy’ had indeed existed in Byzantine reality and not only in historians’ minds, one would expect that the two most wide-ranging organisational changes in the early medieval Byzantine army-the creation of themes and the formation of tagmata-were undertaken in direct connection with, if not outright subservience to, long-term strategic considerations. At a closer look there is no proof whatsoever for such a connection. The rearrangement of mobile field armies in themes was a measure taken by Constans II around 660 to meet serious problems regarding soldiers’ pay (see below). Equally, the first formation of tagmata (special units), under Constantine V around 750 had a quite direct and trite internal background, namely the curbing of the danger of the large Opsician theme armies close to Constantinople that were prone to rebellion and to supporting contenders to the imperial throne. That this was ’the first step in a rapidly-growing tendency to recruit mercenary forces, both foreign and indigenous ...’ (p. 78) may be so in retrospect-even if in my opinion Haldon throughout his book merges, too quickly, fully professional soldiers and mercenaries-but was in no way intended, let alone foreseen, as such by Constantine V as part of a consciously designed strategic masterplan.

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It is even more difficult to link tendencies in tactical development to long-term strategic aims, since the former were so clearly dependent on international exchange of technology. For example, Haldon points out that Byzantine cavalry equipment and warfare at different points in time underwent substantial influences: Avar, Sassanian, Pecheneg, Seldjuk and Norman-French. It may be that the tactical role of cavalry got more pronounced in the type of skirmishing warfare that Byzantium relied on at its frontiers during the long period of ’soft defence’; a similar, gradual development, although for very different reasons, is visible in Western Europe. Even the introduction of the famous cavalry unit of cataphractsthe tenth-century equivalent of the modern tank-which was one of the two pillars of what Haldon calls the ’tactical revolution’ that was set in motion in the 960s and 970s by Nicephoros II Phocas and his murderer and successor, John I Tzimisces, was in line with international developments. Therefore, the more revolutionary of the two measures may have been the other one: the revival of well disciplined and well drilled lineof-battle infantry, for which the classical Roman legions had been so feared. But then again, Haldon omits to put these tactical innovations into an international perspective, which makes it difficult to judge how ’revolutionary’ they really were. This leads me to something that, as a professional user of specialist textbooks, has somewhat surprised me. Whether this was Haldon’s own choice, or decreed by the editorial board of the new University College monograph series on ’Warfare and History’ of which his book is a part, I do not know, but throughout his book Haldon is reluctant to engage in open discussion, although there would have been enough starting points. I have already mentioned the issue of ’grand strategy’ and of the military and social backgrounds of the increasing importance of cavalry in the early Middle Ages. And there is more. At the end of Chapter 3, for instance, Haldon comes up with calculations of the size of the Byzantine army at different points in time. All but one of these are reasonably in accordance with Treadgold’s more intricate calculations; the exception is the figure for ca. 1000, where Treadgold has over 283,000 men, and Haldon only 110,000, exclusive of the imperial tagmata at Constantinople (p. 103). Now, here we are talking of a difference of 100 per cent, a figure which makes a large difference when appraising the military power behind the amazing Byzantine
recovery in the second half of the tenth century! But Haldon doesn’t deem Treadgold’s work worthy of even a mention in a footnote; in the relevant footnote he just refers to calculations in a recent essay by the French Byzantinologist Jean-Claude Cheynet.

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Even more startling is the silence around the ’military land’ controversy. According to Michael Hendy and Warren Treadgold, the relocation of the old mobile field armies in themes under Emperor Constans II (641-68) would have been accompanied by a revolutionary change in the pay of soldiers. Lack of funds would have led Constans to cut all soldiers’ pay in half, and in compensation to grant them land out of the imperial demesnes. Evidently, the cavalry received more than the infantry, and officers more than common soldiers, but, according to Treadgold, even the latter were rather well-off: they received standard farms of 150 modii (about 12 hectares) of land. This measure would have created a class of soldier-farmers who had a personal stake in holding these military lands. Haldon totally rejects the Hendy-Treadgold theory about the origins of Byzantine military lands, which in just one footnote is disqualified as ’a guess’ (p. 319, note 49). Instead, Haldon firmly holds on to the older interpretation (pp. 122-23): that somewhere in the seventh century, general conscription was reintroduced, whereby military service as in Diocletian’s days became ’a hereditary obligation’. Ownership of a certain amount of land was required to become a conscript, so that ’provincial soldiers [could become] dependent on their households for their provisions’. The central government lubricated the transition to this system, that went along with a general return to supporting troops in kind instead of cash payments, by offering soldiers and their households fiscal privileges. Thus, it contributed to a basic division within the army between a (relatively small) ’core of salaried and full-time troops’ and a massive popular militia of soldiers who usually for most part of the year stayed at home and served on a seasonal basis. Even from this summary account it will be clear that both interpretations raise problems. The standard theory followed by Haldon has the difficulty of explaining how the introduction of a system by which the state, from one day to another, so to speak, ’transferred much of the burden of supporting the armies away from the fisc directly onto local populations’ (p. 122) could pass as smoothly as it evidently did. And Hendy and Treadgold want us to believe that the Byzantine government would not have passed on its difficulties with adequately remunerating the army on its taxpayers’ shoulders, that the emperor, instead, would have gallantly taken the entire bill and doled out most of the imperial demesne lands-which would have covered almost a fifth of the cultivated lands of the empire-while at the same time presumably dispossessing masses of tenants established on those lands (or at least lowering their occupancy status). Thus presented, both scenarios should have conjured

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large-scale rebellion, but all we hear in our sources is the sound of silence. The protagonists of both views will say that this proves that the measures taken were largely paper measures with no consequences as to the average fiscal burdens of the Byzantine population. Who cared whether taxes were paid to Constantinople or grain and fodder were delivered directly to soldiers? And what was the difference between paying rent to the state’s treasurer or to a private soldier/owner? In both cases the state only withdrew as a mediator between society and the military; in neither case were local populations on balance better or worse off. The question is of course, whether local populations would have perceived this zero-sum outcome immediately. From that point of view, I would say that Haldon’s line of reasoning retains more credit than the Hendy-Treadgold thesis. The latter thesis has to deal with the awkward situation in which an entire class of possessors-the tenants of demesne lands-so far as they weren’t already soldiers themselves, became, with one stroke of the pen, degraded and, if they were not outright expelled, were compelled to submit to a new class of masters/proprietors. Even if for many tenants this would have made little difference in the end, any government measure of this kind could easily have fostered social resentment and burst into social unrest, of which there is, I repeat, no trace. The whole point, however, is that by presenting his interpretation as the only one possible Haldon has done nothing to enlighten the issue. In this case, as in some others, I would have preferred a more

argumentative treatment.
Whatever their differences of opinion in other respects, Haldon and Treadgold by and large agree on the social status of Byzantine soldiers of the ninth and tenth century. Both are surprisingly positive. Even common theme soldiers must usually have been owners of ’a substantial small estate rather than an average poor peasant’s holding’. It ’reinforces the idea that [most] theme soldiers ... were relatively well-off, a rural elite’ (p. 267). Haldon is the first to admit that in reality there must have been a great variety in wealth, and that the diminished military importance of the theme militias from the tenth century onwards did bring about a general decline in their status, economic as well as social. Gradually the common theme soldiers went up in the peasant population. This was the crowning piece of a protracted structural shift in the recruitment of Byzantine soldiers that went back to the days of Constans II. Military obligations from then on started to be seen as hereditary or, otherwise put, as an integral part of the possession of (hereditary) military lands. Only much later did measures have to be taken to ensure that even with

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the alienation of military lands, commercially or otherwise, the military obligations attached to them were fulfilled. Then the original reasoning, whatever it was, was turned around: in order to become a heavy cavalryman, or a light trooper, or an infantryman the possession of specific minimum amounts of land were required. From then on, also, it became gradually possible and common to send replacements or to convert physical obligations to serve in the army into cash payments. All such developments worked in the direction of an even further professionalisation of the Byzantine army, which was expressed in the diminished importance of theme militias versus the growing importance of tagmatic units, as well as in the continuously growing numbers of special mercenary troops. At the final stage, reached in the days of Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine army had lost its distinct, basically classical Roman character and had become an army ’whose tactics were no different from any other multi-ethnic, polyglot mercenary army’ in the LatinChristian and Muslim world of the time (p. 226). When compressing more than a thousand years of history into a few hundred pages it is difficult not to see the Byzantine Empire as a fortress under siege, but is this impression correct? Haldon has done his utmost to paint a more balanced picture of the ideological weight of warfare in Byzantine society, of the organisation and tactical functioning of Byzantine armies, and of their relative success in the turbulent world of the early medieval Mediterranean. In this respect Haldon’s book is a valuable and effective antidote against the totalising antemural colouring of Byzantine history that pervades many handbooks and surveys of medieval history. Haldon teaches us that the Byzantine army could very well hold its own until into the twelfth century; that it was not the eternal loser. At the same time he has shown that Byzantine society was less militaristic in its veins than the classical Roman Empire had been. In Byzantine society the army was always regarded as a ’distinct branch of the state apparatus’ (p. 257), and the military and ’civil’ spheres -emained always well separated (for instance, bearing weapons and using viulence was a prerogative of the army). ’Byzantium was a society organized for war, yet it was not, in its general aspect, a warlike society’ is how Haldon snappily summarises his view at the end (p. 280). In linking Byzantium’s basically pacifist ideology to Christian philosophy, in which warfare in the end was seen as an evil necessity, Haldon however turns a blind eye to continuity with ancient Rome in the shape of the Pax Romana conceptwhich was interestingly enough Christianised and absorbed quite early by Church fathers such as Saint John Chrysostom. To a degree further than Pax Romana had ever been, Christian ethics were double-edged;

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they required defence not just of territorial integrity and civic values but also of the one true faith, and defence could easily slide into warwhether defensive or offensive-against the enemies of Christ. Fighting wars had become more than just a public service to the Roman Empire and the Roman people, but a holy obligation that was owed to God in his eternal struggle with evil. It may make us wonder why Byzantium, in view of its illustrious military tradition, lost in the end, and why it lost so quickly from the millennial perspective of Byzantine history. This monumental problem of medieval history is only treated in last two pages of the book (pp. 279-80), where Haldon wisely (but also somewhat disappointingly)

up with the usual combination of external and internal factors:

the external ones being in this case the rise in the

area of rival states ’of above all, economic equivalent technological, organizational, and, potential’ and the loss of the strategically crucial Taurus/anti-Taurus ranges, crucial for preventing Muslim penetration of Anatolia/Asia Minor. Although probably the more important one, the internal factor is even more vaguely outlined: increasing internal weakness following ‘major changes in the distribution of political and economic power within the empire’ in favour of the provincial elite(s) that with growing success went to challenge the central government’s ’absolute authority over the distribution and consumption of provincial resources’. The reverse side was that precious economic and military resources were lost in internecine conflicts. This may all be true, but Haldon’s learned and rewarding book makes it abundantly clear that the fatal implosion of the Byzantine Empire can only very partially be blamed on its army.


Hoppenbrouwers University of Leiden,
The Netherlands


Bhargava, State, Society and Ecology. Gorakhpur in Transition, 1750-1830, Delhi, Manohar Publishers, 1999, pp. 279.

Bhargava’s study of the Gorakhpur region contributes to the transition debate and to colonial discourse in its widest sense. The author explicitly favours the position of continuity and progress as elaborated

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