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Byzantine Navy. A direct descendant of the legions of the old Roman Empire, the Byzantine Army maintained a similar level of discipline, strategic prowess and organization. For much of its history in fact, the Byzantine Army was the most powerful and effective military force in all of Europe. The Army of the Eastern Roman Empire Just as the Byzantine Empire (Gr. [Βπδαληηλε Απηνθξαηνξηα] or, more properly, Βαζηιεηα Ρωκαληνλ) was a continuation of the Roman Empire, so the Byzantine army was an outgrowth of the earlier Roman structure. Provinces ('provinciae') were originally under civilian jurisdiction, with governors appointed by the Roman Senatus or by the emperor himself; the army consisted of thirty-odd legions quartered along the inhabited borders of the empire (See List of Roman legions). The System of Diocletian and Constantine The Eastern Empire dates from the creation of the Tetrarchy ('Quadrumvirate') by the emperor Diocletianus in AD 293. His plans for succession did not outlive his lifetime, but his reorganization of the army did by centuries. Rather than maintain the traditional infantry-heavy legions, Diocletian reformed it into border and field units. As with all other forces during the middle ages, there was a loss of prestige and interest in the infantry and a corresponding expansion of the importance of the cavalry. This was assisted by the introduction and development of the saddle and the stirrup in the early Dark Ages and by the development of horses on the Iranian plateau sturdy enough to carry a man in full armor. The border ('limitanei') units were to occupy the 'limes', the Roman border fortifications, and consisted of poorly-trained professional soldiers. The field units, by contrast, were to stay well behind the border and move quickly where they were needed, whether for offensive or defensive roles. Field units were created by retooling the legions into cavalry units and maintained as small elite cadres with expensive training and weaponry. They consisted of:
Scholae units - properly the Schola Protectores Domestici, the "Protective Association of the Royal Escort" (also called the 'Obsequium,') the personal guard of the Emperor, created to replace the Praetorian Guard disbanded by Constantine I; Palatinae units – the "Palace" units, the next highest ranked units; Comitatenses' units – the "Line" or "Regular" units, some formed from the old legions, some new; Pseudocomitatenses units – the "Irregular" units, some 'limitanei' units diverted into the field army, some the less-qualified former legions.
The legions still called as such in the third and fourth century consisted of:
Armeniaca – the "Armenian," 'pseudocomitatensis' under the command of the 'Magister militum per Orientis' Flavia Constantia – the "Steady Flavian," 'comitatensis' Flavia Gallicana Constantia – the "Steady Gaulic Flavian," 'pseudocomitatensis' under the command of the 'Magister Peditum' Flavia Martis – the "Martial Flavian," 'pseudocomitatensis' Flavia Pacis – the "Peaceful Flavian," 'comitatensis' under the Magister Peditum Flavia Theodosiana – the "Theodosian Flavian," 'comitatensis' Illyricorum - the "Illyrican" Iovia - the "Jovian" Isaura Sagitaria – the "Isaurian archers," 'pseudocomitatensis' Iulia Alpina – the "Alpine Julian," an Italian 'pseudocomitatensis' under the Magister Peditum Martia - the "Martial" Maximiana Thaebanorum – the "Thebans' Maximinian," 'comitatensis' Noricorum - "of the Noricans," from Styria Pontica - the "Pontic," from the south-eastern coast of the Black Sea
Armeniaca – "Armenian" 'pseudocomitatensis' Britannica – the "British," 'comitatensis' under the Magister Peditum Flavia Constantia – 'comitatensis' under the Magister Peditum Flavia Virtutis – the "Military Flavian." 'comitatensis' under the Magister Peditum Herculia - the "Herculian" Isaura - the "Isauran," from the Tarsus Iulia Alpina – 'pseudocomitatensis' under the command of the Comes Illyricum Felix Valentis Thebaeorum – "Valens' Lucky Thebans," 'comitatensis' Legiones III Diocletiana - the "Diocletian" Flavia Salutis – the "Salvation Flavian," 'comitatensis' under the Magister Peditum Herculea – 'comitatensis' under the Comes Illyricum Isaura Iulia Alpina – Italian 'comitatensis' under the Magister Peditum
Italica - the "Italian" Martia Parthica - the "Parthian," from the Persia marchland
Gemina - the "Twin" Gallicana - the "Gaul" Herculia Hispana - the "Spanish" Parthica
Legio XII Victrix - the "Victors" (Source: Notitia Dignitatum) Again note, however, that these were not the legions of the Republic or earlier Roman empire, that they consisted largely or solely of equites troops, and that they tended to be far short of the Augustinian legion component of 5,000 men. The Armies of Justinian and his Successors The Armies of the Middle Byzantine Period
Established either by Heraklios or his successor Konstas II on the model of the Italian and African exarchates, the themes (Gr. ζεκ&alpha -ηα) were administrative divisions of the empire in which a general (Gr. ζηξαηεγνο*) exercised both civilian and military jurisdiction. The name is peculiar; Treadgold's closest guess is that thema was being used to denote "emplacements." The five original themata were all in Asia Minor and designed to counter the Arab 'jihad' that had already consumed the Egyptian and Syrian provinces. They were:
Thema Armeniakon, formed around the Army of Armenia established by Iustinianus, comprising eastern Anatolia from Kappadokia to the Black Sea and the Euphrates; Thema Anatolikon, formed around the Army of the East, comprising the Byzantine holdings in central and south-eastern Asia Minor; Thema Opsikion, formed around the 'Obsequium' (L. "Retinue"), a 'comitatensis' force previously kept in the presence of the emperor, comprising Bithynia and Paphlagonia;
Thema Thrakesion, formed around the Army of Thrace, comprising southwestern Asia Minor around Ionia; and Thema Karabisianon, the "Theme of Ships" in Pamphylia and Rhodos, which was a naval theme responsible for fending off the Arab navy.
Within each theme, eligible men were given grants of land to support their families and to equip themselves (πξωλνηα). The population of the first four were directed into the army; Karabisianon supplied the men for the navy, although shipbuilding itself was subsidized (intermittantly) by various departments of the Imperial treasury. The pattern was adopted in short order for the Empire's holdings in the West as well. Following revolts strengthened by the large size of these divisions, Leon III, Theophilos, and Leon VI all responded by breaking the themes up into smaller areas and dividing control over the armies within each theme into various tourmai. Further, instead of expanding existing themes, the emperors of the resurgent Macedonian dynasty tended to create new ones in the areas they conquered. By the time of the writing of De Thematibus in the tenth century, Konstantinos VII Porphyrogenes listed twenty-eight themata: In Asia:
Thema Anatolikon, including parts of Phrygia, Lykaonia, Isauria, Pamphylia and Pisidia; Thema Armeniakon, including parts of Armenia, Khaldia, and Kappadokia; Thema Thrakesion, established by Leo III in Phrygia, Lydia and Ionia and named after the Thracian troops rotated there; Thema Opsikion, including Mysia and part of Bithynia and Phrygia; Thema Optimaton, named after the tagma ton Optimaton ('"Regiment of the Best"') stationed there, formed out of Opsiakian Bithynia; Thema Bukellarion, named after the tagma ton Bukellarion ('"Regiment of the Companions"') stationed there, formed out of Opsiakian Galatia; Thema Paphlagonias; Thema Khaldias, the country about Trebizond and formerly called Pontos after the Black Sea (Gr. Επμεηλνζ Πνληνζ); Thema Mesopotamias, the trifling possessions of the empire on the Mesopotamian frontier; Thema Koloneias, the country between Pontos and Armenia Minor, through which the Lycus flows, near Neokaisareia; Thema Sebasteias, consisting of the rest of Armenia; Thema Lykandon, a theme formed by Leon VI the Wiss on the borders of Armenia; Thema Kibyrraioton, the naval theme established by Leo III in Karia, Lykia, Rhodos, and the coast of Kilikia that replaced the earlier Thema Karabisianon; Thema Kypriakon, the naval theme for Cyprus; and Thema Aigiaon Pelagon, the naval theme for the Aegean.
Thema Thrakes, the area around but not including Konstantinoupolis; Thema Makedonikon, the area around but not including Thessaloniki; Thema Strymonos; Thema Thessalonikes, the second city of the Empire; Thema Helladikon, created between 687 and 695, consisted of Greece between Makedonia and the Isthmus, the former regions of Attica, Boeotia, Akarnania, and Aetolia; Thema Peloponneson; Thema Kephallenias; Thema Nikopolitikon; Thema Dyrrakhion, on the shore of modern Albania; Thema Sikelias, a naval theme; Thema Longibardias (also called Kalabrias) in Italy; and Thema Khersonos (also called Thema ta Klimata) in the Crimea.
Note that this is a traditional list - Sicily had been completely lost to the Arabs at the beginning of Konstantinos's reign in 905 and Cyprus was a condominium jointly administered with the Muslim khalifa until its reconquest by Nikephoros II Phokas in 965. Konstantinoupolis itself was under an eparkhos and protected by the numerous tagmata and police forces. Under the direction of the thematic strategoi, 'tourmarchai' commanded two from to four divisions of soldiers and territory called 'tourmai.' Under them, the 'droungarioi' headed subdivisions called 'droungoi,' each with a thousand soldiers. On the field, these units would be further divided into 'banda' with a nominal strength of 300 men (although at times reduced to little more than 50.) Again, the fear of empowering effective revolts was largely behind these subdivisions (cf. Treadgold.) The Imperial Tagmata The Tagmata (ηαγκαηα, "Regiments") were the standing army of the Empire, typically headquartered in or around Constantinople. The remains of Diocletianus's armies became the first tagmata, who were turned into the thematic forces under the Heraclids. Around the same time, some tagmata were formed as social clubs for the well-connected (δπλαηνη) of the capital. Iustinianus, for instance, is said to have amused himself by including one of these units, the 'Scholae', in mock active deployment lists, thus causing a panic amongst their upper class gentlemen-soldiers, who had no desire to leave the safety of Constantinople for the discomfort and danger of an actual military campaign. After the first set of thematic revolts reminded the emperors of the utility of a loyal standing force, however, the tagmata were reformed under a separate adminstration, improved in equipment and training, and continued to be used until the end of the empire.
The four most prestigious tagmata, in order, were
the Skholai (Gr. ρνιαη, the "Schools"), the Exkoubitoi (Gr. Εμθνπβηηνη, the "Watchmen"); the Arithmoi (Gr. Αξηζκνη, the "Numbers") or Vigla (Gr. πηγια, the "Watch"); and the tagma ton Hikanaton (Gr. Ιθαλαηνη, the "Worthies").
All of these were cavalry units consisting of from 1-6,000 men each. A strength of 4,000 each appears to have been standard. The Numeroi (Gr. Ννπκεξνη, "Bathhouse boys" for their base of operations in the city), the tagma ton Optimaton (Gr. Οπηηκαηνη, the "Best"), and the tagma ton Teikheon (Gr. Σεηρενλ, the "Wall") were infantry tagmata. The Vigla and the Numeroi assisted in the policing of Constantinople; the tagma ton Teikheon, as the name suggests, manned the Theodosian walls and was generally responsible for the defense of the capital. In addition to these more or less stable units, any number of shorter-lived tagmata were formed as pet units of various emperors. Mikhael II raised the Tessarakontarioi, a special marine unit, and Ioannes Tzimiskes created a corps called the Athanatoi (the "Immortals") after the old Persian unit. Foreign and Mercenary Soldiers Foreign troops during the late Empire were known as the Foederati ("Allies") and continued to be known as such until about the ninth century (although the title had by then been Hellenized to Phoideratoi (Gr. Φνηδεξάηνη). From this point, foreign troops (mainly mercenaries) were known as the Hetaireiai(Gr. Εηαηξείαη, "Companions") and most frequently employed in the Imperial Guard. This force was in turn divided into the Great Companions (Μεγάιε Εηαηξεία), the Middle Companions (Μέζε Εηαηξεία), and the Minor Companions (Μηθξά Εηαηξεία), commanded by their respective Hetaireiarches. These may have been divided upon a religious basis separating the Christian subjects, Christian foreigners, and non-Christians, respectively. (Source: The Book of Ceremonies by Konstantinos Porphyrogenitos) Additionally, during the Comnenian period, the mercenary units would simply be divided by ethnicity and called after their native lands: the Inglinoi (Englishmen), the Phragkoi (Franks), the Skythikoi (Scythians), the Latinikoi (Latins), and so on. Ethiopians even served during the reign of Theophilos. These mercenary units, especially the Skythikoi, were also often used as a police force in Constantinople. But, of course, the most famous of all Byzantine regiments was the legendary Varangian Guard. This unit traced its roots to the 6,000 Rus sent to Emperor Basil II by Vladimir of Kiev in 988. The tremendous fighting abilities of these axe-wielding, barbarian Northerners and their perceived loyalty (bought with much gold) established them as an elite body, and indeed, rose to become the Emperors’ personal bodyguard. This is further exemplified by the title of their commander, Akolouthos (Αθόινπζνο, “Acolyte” to the
Emperor). Initially the Varangians were mostly of Rus origin, but later many Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons (after the Norman Conquest) entered the Guard. The Varangian Guard is thought to have been disbanded after the sack of Constantinople by the forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204.
The Comnenian army A powerful new force Under Alexius, John and Manuel Comnenus, the power of the Byzantine Empire was restored by a new professional army, which was largely composed of Byzantine citizens and powerful mercenaries. It contained formidable guards units such as the Varangian Guard and the 'Immortals' (a unit of heavy cavalry) stationed in Constantinople, and also levies from the provinces. These levies included Kataphraktoi cavalry from Macedonia, Thessaly and Thrace, and various other provincial forces such as Trebizond Archers from the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor. Under John II, a Macedonian division was maintained, and new native Byzantine troops were recruited from the provinces. Soldiers were also drawn from defeated peoples, such as the Pechenegs, who fought as cavalry archers. Native troops were organised into regular units and stationed in both the Asian and European provinces. Units of archers, infantry and cavalry were grouped together so as to provide combined arms support to each other. This Comnenian army was a highly effective, well-trained and well-equipped force, capable of campaigning in Egypt, Hungary, Italy and Palestine. However, like many aspects of the Byzantine state under the Comneni, its biggest weakness was that it relied on a powerful and competant ruler to direct and maintain its operations. While Alexius, John and Manuel ruled (c.1081 to c.1180), this was not a problem. Yet, as we shall see, at the end of the twelfth century this competant leadership largely disappeared. The consequences of this breakdown in command were to prove disastrous for the Byzantine Empire. The limitations of the twelfth century army The decline of the 'theme' system, which had supplied large numbers of troops for the empire in earlier centuries, may have been an important factor in the eventual collapse of the empire. It is thought that the Byzantine field army under Manuel Comnenus (11431180) numbered some 40,000 men. Comparison with the thematic army that had existed in the ninth century shows that, at least on paper, considerably more men had been available for duty under the theme system. And like the late Roman army, the late Byzantine army was more costly than its earlier counterpart (although still less expensive than the large standing army of Basil II). Although the role of mercenaries in the Byzantine army has been the subject of much debate, it is a common misconception that they formed the entire Byzantine army in this period. In fact, as we have seen, the Comneni emperors made significant efforts to recruit native units as well as mercenaries. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that
mercenaries and auxiliary units provided by subject states did make up a substantial part of the army (perhaps one-third). Yet some mercenary units could be expensive. One of the advantages of the theme system was that it provided a means of mobilising large numbers of men cheaply. The collapse of the theme system, therefore, appears to have reduced the number of soldiers that the empire could afford. Another advantage of the theme system may have been its simplicity. However, mobilising the Comnenian army of the twelfth century was a more complex affair, involving the raising of provincial levies, the mobilisation of guards units from the capital, divisions from the provinces, and summoning troops from subject states. This is not to say that the Comnenian army was any less effective (the thematic army's success rate was just as varied as that of its Comnenian counterpart); it is more the case that, although formidable under a competant leader, the twelfth century army was unable to protect the empire on its own. When incompetant or disinterested emperors took power, the Comnenian army was effectively leaderless. It is even possible to argue that, with the demise of the theme system, one of the main strengths of the Byzantine state had been lost, and that therefore it is perhaps unsurprising that the empire disintegrated soon after the death of Manuel Comnenus. It was not the army itself that was to blame, but rather the system that supported it. Byzantium had come to rely too much on individual emperors. Without strong underlying institutions that would always be there, whether the emperor was good or bad, the state was extremely vulnerable in times of crisis.
The Armies of the Realms-in-Exile Byzantine Army under the Paleologi Byzantine Military History Despite the importance the Byzantine Empire (or Ρωκαλία, as it called itself) attached to its position as the defender of true, orthodox Christianity against Muslim and Catholic alike, it is worth noting that the Empire never developed or understood the concept of a "holy war." Its neighbours' concepts of Jihad and Crusade seemed to it gross perversions of scripture or simple excuses for looting and destruction. Emperors, generals and military theorists alike found war to be a failing of governance and political relations, to be avoided whenever possible. Only wars waged defensively or to avenge a wrong could in any sense be considered just, and in such cases the Byzantines felt that God would protect them. Despite the importance the Byzantine Empire (or Ρωκαλαη, as it called itself) attached to its position as the defender of true, orthodox Christianity against Muslim and Catholic alike, it is worth noting that the Empire never developed or understood the concept of "Holy War." Its neighbors' concepts of Jihad and Crusade seemed to it gross perversions of scripture or simple excuses for looting and destruction. Emperors, generals and
military theorists alike found war to be a failing of governance and political relations, to be avoided whenever possible. Only wars waged defensively or to avenge a wrong could in any sense be considered just, and in such cases the Byzantines felt that God would protect them. Sources
Notitia Dignitatum A History of the Byzantine State and Society by Warren Treadgold Warfare in Roman Europe by Hugh Elton The Late Byzantine Army by Mark C. Bartusis By John Haldon: o Byzantium at War o Warfare, state and society in the Byzantine World o Byzantine Praetorians The Idea of Holy War in the Orthodox World by Irina Moroz, from Quaestiones medii aevi novae v. 4
The Byzantine army evolved from that of the late Roman Empire. The standard language of the army was still Latin (though later and especially after the 6th century Greek dominates, as Greek became the official language of the entire empire), but it became considerably more sophisticated in terms of strategy, tactics and organization. For example, the Byzantine army was the first army in the world to adopt combined arms task forces as part of its regular doctrine, similar in many ways to the German Kampfgruppen of WWII. Unlike the Roman legions, the core of its strength was in its heavy cavalry Cataphracts, which evolved from the Clibanarii of the late empire. Infantry were still used but mainly in support roles and as a base of maneuver for the cavalry. Most of the footsoldiers of the empire were the heavy infantry Skutatoi and, later on, Kontarioi (plural of the singular Kontarios), with the remainder being the light infantry and archers of the Psiloi. Byzantine soldiers were often depicted by Westerners as effeminate and reluctant to fight, but this was a false image. The Byzantines valued intelligence and discipline in their sodliers far more than bravery or brawn. The "Ρωμαίοι στρατιώται" were a loyal force comprised of citizens willing to fight to defend their homes and their state to the death, augmented by mercenaries. Infantry conscription was still practiced, as in the Roman army, with every citizen eligible to serve. The training was very much like that of the legionaries, with the soldiers taught close quarters, melee techniques with their swords. But, as in the late Empire, archery was extensively practicised and emphasized.
Infantry types and equipment Skutatoi: The bulk of the byzantine infantry were the skutatoi, named from the word skutos, for their large oval shield. These men were professional soldiers paid by the
state. The skutatoi evolved from the Comitatenses of the later empire and were equipped much as the same as these legionaries. Their armor and weapons included:
kresamata: A quilted, green skirt hanging below a soldier's cuirass to protect his legs. θlibanion (θιηβάληνλ): the characteristic Byzantine lamellar cuirass, usually sleeveless. In addition, pteruges (leather hanging strips) were worn to protect shoulders and hips. zaba (δάβα) or lorikion (ιωξίθηνλ): mail hauberks, usually reserved for the heavy cataphracts. bambakion (βακβάθηνλ): A padded leather or cotton under-garment, worn under the cuirass. epilorikion (επηιωξίθηνλ): A padded leather or cotton over-garment, worn over the cuirass. spathion (ζπαζίνλ): The typical Roman spatha, a longsword (about 90 cm), double-edged and very heavy. paramerion (παξακέξηνλ): a one-edged scimitar-like sword, girded at the waist. kontarion (θνληάξηνλ): a long spear (about 2 to 3 m), the kontarion was used by the first ranks of each chiliarchia (battalion) in order to fend off enemy cavalry. Helmet: the helmet varied by region and time period, but was generally a simple, conical-shaped piece of steel, often with exttra neckguard. skutos (ζθνύηνο): a large and oval (later kite-shaped) shield made of wood, covered by leather and reinforced with steel. Each unit had different shield decoration. Unarmoured light infantrymen, often armed with javelins, were known, as in classical times, as peltastoi. Toxotai or Psiloi: The standard light infantry of the empire, in each chiliarchia they made up the last three lines. These soldiers, highly trained in the art of bow, were formidable archers. Most of the Imperial archers came from Asia Minor, especially the region around Trebizond on the Black sea, where they were raised, trained and equipped.
Their arms included:
Composite bow Bambakion spathion or tzikourion (small axe) for self-defence.
Although military manuals prescribed the use of light armour for archers, cost and mobility considerations would have prohibited wide-scale implementation of this.
Varangian Guard: The Varangian Guard was a foreign mercenary force and the elite of the Byzantine infantry. It was comprised principally of Vikings, Nordic, Slavic and Germanic peoples. The Varangians served as the personal bodyguard (escort) of the
emperor since the time of Basil II. Generally well disciplined and loyal, as long as they were well paid. Although most of them brought their own weapons with them when entering the Emperor's service, they did gradually adopt Byzantine military dress and equipment. Their most characteristic weapon was a heavy axe, hence their designation as pelekyforos froura, the "axe-bearing guard". Infantry organization and formation The primary Byzantine infantry formations were the Chiliarchiai, from the Greek, chilia meaning thousand, because they had about 1000 fighting men. A Chiliarchy was generally made up of 650 skutatoi and 350 toxotai. The skutatoi formed a line of 15-20 ranks deep, in close order shoulder to shoulder. The first line was called the kontarion, the first four lines were made up of skutatoi the remaining three of toxotai. Three or four Chiliarciai formed a Tagma (brigade) in the later empire (after 750), but Chiliarchy-sized units were used throughout the empire's life. The Chiliarciai were deployed facing the enemy, with the cavalry on their wings. The infantry would counter march to make a refused center, while the cavalry would hold or advance to envelope or outflank the enemy. This was similar to the tactic Hannibal employed at Cannae. The Chiliarciai were deployed not in classic checkered Quincunx pattern, but in a long line with enveloping flanks. Each chiliarchy could assume different battle formations depending on the tactical situation, the most common of these were:
line formation; deep formation, similar to a phalanx, which was generally used against other infantry or in order to better repel a cavalry charge; wedge, used to break the enemy's lines; skirmish, with the toxotai advanced in the first line at intervals between the skutatoi, providing missile fire support while enjoying the skutatoi's protection against melees.
Infantry tactics and strategies Although the Byzantines developed highly sophisticated infantry tactics, the main work of battle was done by cavalry. But the infantry still played an important role when the empire needed to demonstrate its strength. In fact many battles, throughout Byzantine history, began with a frontal assault by the skutatoi with support from the horse archer units known as Ippotoxotai (Equites Sagitarii). During these assaults the infantry was deployed in the center, that consisted of two chiliarchiai in wedge formation to break enemy's line, flanked by two more chilarchiai in a "refused wing formation" to protect the center and envelop the enemy. This was the tactic used by Nicephorus Phocas against the Bulgars in 967.
Each charge was supported by toxotai that left the formation and preceded the skutatoi in order to provide missile fire. Often, while the infantry engaged their enemy counterparts, the Clibanophori would destroy the enemy's cavalry (this tactic was used mainly against Franks, Lombards or other Germanic tribes who deployed heavy cavalry). Byzantine infantry were trained to operate with cavalry at all levels and to exploit any gaps created by the cavalry. An effective, but risky, tactic was to send a chiliarchia to seize and defend a high position, such as the top of a hill, as a diversion, while the Cataphracts or Klibanophoroi, supported by the reserve infantry, enveloped the enemy's flank. The infantry was often placed in advanced positions in front of the cavalry, with the cavalry deployed behind them. At the command "aperire spatia", the infantry would open up a gap in their lines, for the cavalry to charge through. Cavalry armor, arms and equipment The Imperial Cataphract was a heavy cavalry horse archer and lancer, who symbolized the power of Constantinople in much the same way as the Legionary represented the might of Rome. The Cataphract wore a conical-shaped casque helmet, topped with a tuft of horsehair dyed his unit's color. He wore a long shirt of doubled layered chain or scale mail, which extended down to his upper legs. Leather boots or greaves protected his lower legs, while gauntlets protected his hands. He carried a small, round shield, the thyreos, bearing his unit's colors and insignia, strapped to his left arm, leaving both hands free to use his weapons and control his horse. Over his mail shirt he wore a surcoat of light weight cotton and a heavy cloak both of which were also dyed in unit colors. The horses often wore mail armor and surcoats as well, to protect their vulnerable heads, necks and chests. The Cataphract's weapons included:
Composite bow: Same as that carried by the Toxotai. Kontarion: or lance, slightly shorter and less thick than that used by the skutatoi, which could also be thrown like a javelin. Spathion: Also identical to the infantry weapon. Dagger Battle axe: Usually strapped to the saddle as a backup weapon and tool. Bambakion: Same as that of the infantry but with a leather corselt usually depicted as colored red.
The lance was topped by a small flag or pennant, of the same color as helmet tuft, surcoat, shield and cloak. When not in use the lance was placed in a saddle boot, much like the carbine rifles of more modern cavalrymen. The bow was slung from the saddle,
from which also was hung its quiver of arrows. Byzantine saddles, which included stirrups (adopted from the Avars), were a vast improvement over earlier Roman and Greek cavalry, who had very basic saddles, without stirrups or even no saddles at all. The Byzantine state also made horse breeding an important priority to the Empire's security. If they could not breed enough high quality mounts themselves, they would not hesistate to purchase them even from the barbarians if the need arose. The Cataphracts, in turn, would have a great influence on these barbarians, especially the Franks, Lombards and Bulgars. Thus the Cataphract is the evolutionary link between the legionaries of ancient Rome and the Knights of medieval Europe. Cavalry formations and tactics The Byzantine cavalrymen and their horses were superbly trained and capable of performing complex maneuvres on the drill field and the battlefield alike. While a proportion of the Cataphrats (Kataphractos or Clibanophori) appear to have been lancers or archers only, most had both bows and lances and were equally deadly with either. Their main tactical unit was the Numerus (Also called at times Arithmos or Banda) of 300-400 men. The equivalent to the old Roman Cohort or the modern Battalion, the Numeri were usually formed in lines 8 to 10 ranks deep, making them almost a mounted Phalanx. The Byzantines recognized that this formation was less flexable and more cumbersome for cavalry than infantry, but found the trade off to be acceptable in exchange for the greater physical and psychological advantages offered by depth. As with the infantry, the Cataphracts adapted their tactics and equipment in relation to which enemy they were figthting. But in the standard deployment, four Numeri would be placed around the infantry lines. One on each flank with one on the right rear and another on the left rear. Thus the cavalry Numeri were not only the flank protection and envelopement elements, but the main reserve and rear guard as well. The Byzantines usually preferred using the cavalry for flanking and envelopement attacks, instead of frontal assaults, and almost always preceded and supported their charges with arrow fire. The front ranks of the numeri would draw bows and open up on the enemy's front ranks, then once the foe had been sufficiently weakened, they would draw their lances and charge. The back ranks would follow, drawing their bows and firing ahead as they rode. This highly effective combination of missile fire with shock action, put their opponents at a dangerous disadvantage- If they closed ranks to better resist the charging lances, they would make themselves more vulnerable to the bows' fire, but if they spread out to avoid the arrows, then the lancers would have a much easier job of breaking their thinned ranks. Many times the arrow fire and start of a charge were enough to cause the enemy to run or rout without the need to close or melee. A favorite tactic when confronted by a strong enemy cavalry force, involved a feigned retreat and ambush. The Numeri on the flanks would charge at the enemy horsemen, then draw their bows, turn around and fire as they withdrew (the Parthian Shot). If the
enemy horse did not immediately give them chase, they would continue harassing them with arrows until they did. Meanwhile the Numeri on the left and right rear would be drawn up in their standard formation facing the flanks and ready to attack the pursuing enemy as they crossed their lines. The foes would be forced to stop and fight this new unexpected threat, but as they did so, the flanking Numeri would halt their retreat, turn around and charge at full speed, lances at the ready, into their former pursuers. The enemy, weakened, winded and now caught in a vice between two mounted phalanxes, would break, with the Numeri they once pursued now chasing them. Then the rear Numeri, who had ambushed the enemy horse, would move up and attack the now unprotected flanks in a double envelopement. This tactic is similar to what Julius Caesar did at Pharsalus in 48 BC when his allied cavalry acted as bait to lure the superior horse of Pompey into an ambush by the six elite cohorts of his reserve "Forth line". The Arab and Mongol cavalries would also use variations of it later to great effect, when confronted by larger and more heavily armed mounted foes. When the Byzantines had to make a frontal assault against a strong infantry position, the wedge was their preferred formation for charges. The Cataphract Numerus formed a wedge of around 400 men in 8 to 10 progressively larger ranks. The first three ranks were armed with lances and bows, the remainder with lance and shield. The first rank consisted of 25 soldiers, the second of 30, the third of 35 and the remainder of 40, 50, 60 ect. adding ten men per rank. When charging the enemy, the first three ranks fired arrows to create a gap in the enemy's formation then at about 100 to 200 meters distance from the foe, the first ranks shifted to their kontarion lances, charging the line at full speed followed by the remainder of the battalion. Often these charges ended with the enemy infantry routing, at this point infantry would advance to secure the area and allow the cavalry to briefly rest and reorganize themselves. When facing opponents, such as the Vandals or the Avars with strong heavy cavalry, the cavalry were deployed behind the heavy infantry who were sent ahead to engage the enemy. The infantry would attempt to open a gap in the the enemy formation for the cavalry to charge through. Other cavalry types The Byzantines fielded various types of light cavalry to compliment their Kataphraktos, in much the same way as the Romans employed auxilary light infantry to augment their heavy infantry legionaries. However, due to the empire's long experience, they were wary of relying too much upon foreign auxiliaries or mercenaries (with the notable exception of the Varangian Guard). As a result, Imperial armies were usually comprised mainly of citizens and loyal subjects. Indeed, the decline of the Byzantine military during the 11th century is parallel to the decline of the peasant-soldier , which led to the increased use of unreliable mercenaries. If the need for light cavalry became great enough, Constantinople would simply raise additional Toxotai, provide them with mounts and train them as Ippotoxotai. When they did employ foreign light horsemen, the Byzantines preferred to recruit from steppe
nomad tribes such as the Sarmatians, Scythians, Pechenegs, Khazars or Cumans. On occasion, they recruited even from their enemies, such as the Bulgars, Avars, Magyars or Seljuk Turks. The Armenians were also noted for their light horsemen. Light cavalry were primarily used for scouting, skirmishing and screening against enemy scouts and skrimshers. They were also useful for chasing down enemy light cavalry, who were too fast for the Catphracts to catch. Light cavalry were more specialized than the Cataphracts as well, being either archers and horse slingers (psiloi ippeutes), or lancers and mounted Javelineers (psiloi kataphractes). The types of light cavalry used, their weapons, armor and equipment and their origins, varied depending upon the time period and circumstances. References
Charles Oman, The History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages (1898, rev. ed. 1953) R.E. Dupuy and T.N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia Of Military History: From 3500 B.C. To The Present. (2nd Revised Edition 1986) Leo VI, "Tactica" Nicephorus Phocas, "Praecepta" Maurice, "Strategicon" 7.