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The Zenith and Decline of Byzantine Military Science

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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Zenith and Decline of Byzantine Military Science
    Posted: 27-Aug-2005 at 23:55
Originally posted by Heraclius

That doesnt mean a native army couldnt have been trained earlier on before 1204, the empire was a major power again under the Comnemi, I dont understand why they couldnt have trained a substantial native army during this recovery period.

What do you think kept the Comnenian emperors from devising a way to recruit and train a native army? 

Territorially they still had the Balkans and Greece.  The northern seaboard and the northwestern corner of Anatolia was still in Byzantine control.  John II and Manuel I actually reconquered some of Anatolia, pushing the frontier south almost into the Holy Land.  I don't think their Anatolian possessions were so insecure that they were unable to use it as a source for manpower.  After all, what would be the use in keeping the territory if it wasn't a manpower reservoir like in the past?

This is before the sack of 1204 so they definitely had access to Roman treatises and Byzantine military handbooks.  The Comneni could have used these resources as a guideline by which to train the armies and foster discipline.  Plus, training the men in the Roman style and paying homage to their classical past might have been a good unifying tool for the Comneni.

 The reliance on mercenaries by the Comnemi IMO was far to heavy and unnecessary, considering for a significant period of time the empire was on the up again.

You would think that logic and past experience would dictate that superfluous mercenaries was a threat to Byzantine security, both internally and externally.



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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Aug-2005 at 01:34
Originally posted by Byzantine Emperor

Originally posted by Heraclius

That doesnt mean a native army couldnt have been trained earlier on before 1204, the empire was a major power again under the Comnemi, I dont understand why they couldnt have trained a substantial native army during this recovery period.

What do you think kept the Comnenian emperors from devising a way to recruit and train a native army? 

Territorially they still had the Balkans and Greece.  The northern seaboard and the northwestern corner of Anatolia was still in Byzantine control.  John II and Manuel I actually reconquered some of Anatolia, pushing the frontier south almost into the Holy Land.  I don't think their Anatolian possessions were so insecure that they were unable to use it as a source for manpower.  After all, what would be the use in keeping the territory if it wasn't a manpower reservoir like in the past?

This is before the sack of 1204 so they definitely had access to Roman treatises and Byzantine military handbooks.  The Comneni could have used these resources as a guideline by which to train the armies and foster discipline.  Plus, training the men in the Roman style and paying homage to their classical past might have been a good unifying tool for the Comneni.

 The reliance on mercenaries by the Comnemi IMO was far to heavy and unnecessary, considering for a significant period of time the empire was on the up again.

You would think that logic and past experience would dictate that superfluous mercenaries was a threat to Byzantine security, both internally and externally.

 Its doesnt make any sense to me, I wouldnt of expected them to have been able to raise as many men as they used to, but perhaps the organisation could of been like the Roman armies of old. Hardened drilled well-trained professionals as the armies backbone, with auxillaries (now mercenaries) to add some diversity to the army, but always at the heart would be the native troops whom you could rely on.

 Surely, there were people in the empire who questioned the use or overuse of mercenaries or atleast questioned the point in reconquering territory and not utilizing the population in the army.

 I suppose the time itd take to gather and train a native army would be quite considerable, but even so surely in the 99 years of the 3 good Comneni they could have atleast began the process of phasing out the use of mercenaries and gradually building up the native part of the army.

 Rome was in dire straits more than once, it didnt stop them raising more legions of men they knew at the very least were fighting for something more than just the fact they could offer more pay. Didnt mean in times of crisis the legions could always be adequetly trained, but the intention was clear and it held the empire in good stead for many centuries.

 For all Byzantiums holding onto the past you would think they would have learned that mercenaries are not the way forward, for an empire whos future was still very uncertain.

 Afterall look at the last Roman empire, if there was ever a good example of how to ruin your army its there, fill the ranks with unreliable men (germans and other barbarians) who will probably turn on you the second they see profit elsewhere and almost never lose their born loyalty to their respective tribe.

 Still though, I wonder how extensive the peoples reluctance to fight in the army actually was, seems they wernt willing in the numbers youd expect. Really though whip up some religious enthusiasm and patriotism to your cause and the crusades are an example of what can be achieved, even beter had that been harnessed effectively instead of unleashed.

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Aug-2005 at 10:54

 In addition I dont think the Palaeogian emperors can be blamed for this, the blame for me lies squarely with the Comneni, after Michael retook Constantinople in 1261 the empire had already been shattered.

 At the time of the Comneni the empire had suffered a major setback, but it was by no means terminal and the empire by the skill and ability of the Comneni was showing signs of recovery. The hiring of so many mercenaries is baffling.

 After 1204 I think things were to far gone for the empire to be saved in any significant way by anybody, the damage had been done, whether it had been a native or mercenary army raised I think sooner or later the Turks or whoever would have come along and destroyed the remnants anyway.

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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Aug-2005 at 22:46
Originally posted by Heraclius

In addition I dont think the Palaeogian emperors can be blamed for this, the blame for me lies squarely with the Comneni, after Michael retook Constantinople in 1261 the empire had already been shattered.

Yes, I agree.  However, didn't Michael VIII Palaeologus have at least half of the territory in Anatolia, as part of the Nican Empire, that the Comneni had?  I wonder what happened to this land once Michael VIII became emperor in Constantinople.   I don't think the Seljuks overan anymore of Anatolia during Michael's reign. 

Picture: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c4/300 px-Byzantium1204.png

It is not entirely unfeasible to think that he could have resurrected the Themes in that area.  After all, I was reading something today and apparently Manuel I Comnenus did set up the theme system again in the Anatolian lands that he recounquered.  Due to the fragmentary source material, we are unable to tell if it resembled the old Byzantine theme system or whether or not it effectively served its intended purpose.  I would like to think that it did because Manuel was able to raise a sizable army (of not just mercenaries) for the campaign that culminated in the Myriocephalon disaster.

 



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  Quote Alkiviades Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Sep-2005 at 10:38

The areas you are talking about were hardly as densily populated anymore in that timeframe as they were a couple of centuries ago. Several Byzantine writers describe deserted countryside and even large settlements at that timeframe. And since the central rule was anyway weakened, the local warlords would muster their own troops, depleting the limited manpool even more.

And of course, somebody had to make some money too! The land needs hands, and for every hand that carries the sword, several have to work in the field.

Also, you are not taking into account that the drafting systems had been long abandoned and that the empire, in it's constant need for more and more coin, accepted money instead of military service. Also, since we are talking about a declining population and a politically unstable too (most Balkanians were Slavs now = unreliable according to the Byzantines, and many Turks had settled in Anatolia= equally unreliable as levies, allthough they kept hiring unsettled Turks as mercenaries) it is of no surprise that they had a very limited manpool to draw upon.

So they relied on mercenaries... and that was a sure sign of decline at that point.

 

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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Sep-2005 at 15:29

Originally posted by Alkiviades

And since the central rule was anyway weakened, the local warlords would muster their own troops, depleting the limited manpool even more.

Are you talking about the Comneni or the Palaeologan emperors, here?  I think that Alexius I, John II, and Manuel I Comnenus were rather strong emperors and had managed to build the Empire back up from the shambles it was in in the 8th and 9th centuries.  They managed to set the theme system back up in Anatolia, like I mentioned above.  These provided the native troops for Manuel's eastern campaigns.  And by native I don't mean Turks.  There was still a substantial Greek population in Anatolia, or at least descendants of those who were transferred or settled there.  These men had been in the Thematic levies and so now their sons were taking their places.  When you say "local warlords," do you mean the border warriors who fought the Seljuk ghazis?

The Andronici of the Palaeologan dynasy were the weak ones and they squandered what little they had left to work with.  Manuel I, John VIII, and Constantine XI had great potential but no reliable army or resources to work with.

And of course, somebody had to make some money too! The land needs hands, and for every hand that carries the sword, several have to work in the field.

Also, you are not taking into account that the drafting systems had been long abandoned and that the empire, in it's constant need for more and more coin, accepted money instead of military service. Also, since we are talking about a declining population and a politically unstable too (most Balkanians were Slavs now = unreliable according to the Byzantines, and many Turks had settled in Anatolia= equally unreliable as levies, allthough they kept hiring unsettled Turks as mercenaries) it is of no surprise that they had a very limited manpool to draw upon.

I think the reason for establishing the system of Pronoia was to save money and to "draft" (I would use the word recruit) non-mercenary troops into the small mobile army that the Palaeologans had.  Mark Bartusis in The Late Byzantine Soldier: A Social and Administrative Study points out that there were still native troops in the army.  These were mostly the Pronoiar cavalry.

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Sep-2005 at 16:36

 I totally agree that the Emperors after 1261 could of done a better job, but they had very little to fight back with, the Comnemi had 100,000 men armies and they had money. Yes the later Emperors had some money otherwise theyd never of gotten mercenaries, but im sure theyd of done better in more favourable times.

 The Comnemi for all their undoubted brilliance, should have done better themselves, the Turks should have been smashed and could have been especially by Manuel I. Little he can do about his successors we all know they were hit and miss any time, a great man can quite easily be followed by a lunatic. However they still should have left the empire atleast something like it was in 1025 when Basil II died.

 My namesake did much better with very little resources with an empire that was literally in the brink of total collapse, yet he managed to crush the Persians a foe much more determined to destroy Byzantium than the Turks were at the time of Alexius John and Manuel. 3 great men like those really should of done more they had 99 years to bring the empire back and somehow they falled.

 



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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Sep-2005 at 16:55

Originally posted by Heraclius

The Comnemi for all their undoubted brilliance, should have done better themselves, the Turks should have been smashed and could have been especially by Manuel I. Little he can do about his successors we all know they were hit and miss any time, a great man can quite easily be followed by a lunatic. However they still should have left the empire atleast something like it was in 1025 when Basil II died.

I agree.  It is startling to see how badly Manuel screwed up in the end.  He had the military potential of Basil II, but not the pragmatism.  Manuel was a bit too flamboyant at such a crucial time in the Empire's history.  If he had conserved the resources and treasury that his father and grandfather had worked hard to replenish, maybe things would have been different.  But then again, he was succeeded by a lunatic, so who knows!

My namesake did much better with very little resources with an empire that was literally in the brink of total collapse, yet he managed to crush the Persians a foe much more determined to destroy Byzantium than the Turks were at the time of Alexius John and Manuel. 3 great men like those really should of done more they had 99 years to bring the empire back and somehow they falled.

Yes indeed!  Heraclius became emperor under the most terrible circumstances.  He was obviously the exact man for the job.

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Sep-2005 at 17:00

 Bloody typical the way great Emperors were followed by total lunatics who would today most likely be found in a mential institute having been sectioned.

 Manuel was probably the more talented of the 3 comnemi, but I guess he just misused his talents or atleasr directed them in the wrong places. It is a total mystery I have to agree that it is startling how he mess things up at the end, I guess it just wasnt meant to be. I doubt Byzantium would have survived anyway. 1204 just sped things up.

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