Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are more powerful than we can imagine.

Posts tagged ‘comedy’

I don’t know what I’m talking about, version 2

I was asked today a question that made me think very long and hard by a work colleague.

We were eating and he said “if you were to go back in time nad talk to yourself, what would you tell them?” After thinking for a while, I finally answered “don’t worry about things”, things will work out. Don’t worry about who you’re with or whether things will go the way you want them too. But then another thought occured, one I didn’t anticipate. How do you not worry? How would I put into words a way to my younger self to not worry about what will happen? Then it struck me and is the reason I’m writing this now.

Maybe you’re not suppose to know.

It’s weird to think about but it’s informed me in this life and out of all the thngs we do, we don’t really know how to not worry. It’s just something we do and that led me on to think further. We have this thing where we want to keep track of everything and be in control, be conscious all the time. But we can’t, it can’t be done; like trying to describe how we close our hands, we just say “well, I just did it”. It’s like trying to drink the ocean with a fork and in a way, it’s beautiful to think about. The whole Universe had this continous rhythum that we’re not just a part of but are. We’re not separate from it so we can’t be different from it, and part and parcel is going with it.

Life is so strange, we do things and we do them because it has significance in our lives. We build bridges, help the enviroment and topple governments, but really we leave these marks that often do more harm than good. The Bridge rusts, our help destroys more than it helps and that government we toppled turns into a dictatorship. In a way it’s shown me that we’re likely to do harm as well as good and it’s likely we’ll do neither.

A lot of people aspire to say “I want to do this” or “I want to build this company” or “I want to make a million pounds” and they do or they don’t, but after that they leave such a heavy mark and aren’t satisfied anyway because it’s the journey that was satisfying them, so they become depressed and part and parcel of depression is believing the premise things are always going to go up like a continous graph and it doesn’t.

I used to think that the world was a place that was moving around me and I was observing it being moved, like it was some sort of a theatre and, unlike everyone else, I wouldn’t leave a mark. Now Ive figured that there’s nothing wrong with that, actually it’s significant. I’ve realised we hurt the Universe as much as we help it and are likely to do neither. Seeing the world move and observing it isn’t a bad thing, the greatest heroes make discoveries and solutions based on observations as well as doing; and the brilliant thing is when you see through everything and see how it’s a game, you can get lost in it again. I mean, people look at the temple and see through it all but when you do, what’s the harm in singing along and buying second hand souvenirs? You bring up the game and are a part of it and the only way to do that is to be really with it. Except, rather than striving for it you’re just doing it. There are no words to describe how with it you are.

So, if I were to ever tell anything to my former self I wouldn’t. However, if in the situation I would say “just keep going and focus on what you’re doing and keep doing it and when you do it, be with it without hesitation”.

 

 

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Hollow Wood

A leaf falls into the pond.
Splash.

The swift wind in the breeze,
Weaving in the warm glow.

The visions that we immerse ourselves in,
We make ourselves to be made of.

To go to sleep and never wake up,
To wake up having never gone to sleep.

Confidence

Confidence is a a sparing currency.

When it is present, it generates the most valuable and extravagent wealth from people,
When it is absent, all are poor and unfortunate.

It is common property and belongs to everyone,
Yet only few are able to invest it wisely.

The rare few of us inherit it from our ancestors,
Many of us accumilate it through our doings.

Spend it wisely and invest,
Your investment will be paid two fold.

Historical sword fighting in Antiquity and Medieval times: a review

Before I begin, just to clarify my position, I am a History student at a Master’s level; I have done a year of Historical European Martial Arts, mainly working on swords and shields and I study historical fighting in my free time. What I am writing about today is the nature of Ancient to Medieval European fighting that will clarify different principles and myths that surround sword and shield fighting (much of it being fabricated on television and films). What I aim to accomplish as an objective is to outline how sword fighting developed from Antiquity to the Late Medieval era and make the reader aware of the principles involved.

 

The principle of sword fighting or using a sword is the process of pulling and pushing: The sword is used to cut either forwards or backwards. For example, if you are cutting a steak and simply hack at it, it won’t cut through as well. To really get at it you cut the steak by going backwards and forwards in a motion with your knife. Sword fighting works on a similar principle. Many films and television series’ show long swords’ hacking through enemy armour but that is not possible. Most cutting consisted of landing a blow and then drawing the wound by either pulling out or pushing inwards and this is the basis of blocking, leverage, binding and striking.

 

Within Antiquity to the Late-Medieval era, the shield was the main weapon: Shields have often been stereotyped to just ward off blows however the shields of this time shows that this is was not viable. The shield is used as a main weapon while the sword is used in a supporting role to deliver the killing blow. We see this based on two prevalent aspects: size and shield handle.

Size: The large shield sizes indicate that they were used, like swords, as an extension of the arm. Therefore the shield plays a pivotal role in both re-directing strikes using biomechanical principles (e.g. turning swords away) to find vantage points. This also included using the shield’s edge to strike the opponent.

Handle: The handle becomes a key factor in how the shield operates at this time. For example, the arm strap (for formation soldiers such as hoplites) ensured the user was able to hold and control the shield more effectively. The single handle doesn’t offer this support, for example during the medieval period single handled shields were overlapped in a shield wall to compensate for the lack of arm control; it ensured the user was able to keep their shield up in formation and this is evident in Germanic, Viking and Saxon style combat. The single handled shield signals a transition to single combat and small skirmishes, which Scandinavian and German cultures were obsessed with. These gave birth to their own biomechanical principles.

For example, the Vikings and Germanics often utilised a ‘flapping door’ effect with their shields, in which the single handle enabled the shield to rotate both ways. This weakness was used to move around the enemies swing. It enabled greater flexibility and to simply use the weight and momentum of the opponents attack against them.

The exception to both formation and single fighting is the Roman style of fighting because it adapted both types of shield handling and attempted to mediate between both. This is evident from the vertical handle Roman shields had. This meant single handled shield mechanics (that are found with Viking shields) were applicable with Roman shields and it is no coincidence that the oval shield was issued to Roman auxiliaries over rectangular ones, because of its similarity to ‘Barbarian’ shields at the time. In many ways this represented the Romans combining Greek and Germanic styles of fighting together. In 212 AD Emperor Caracella declared all inhabitants of the Roman Empire citizens and this has a fundamental impact on combat style for the legions. As auxiliaries were not longer distinguishable from the legions integration meant the barbarian dominated Roman military integrated familiar weapons that the different Germanic elements were farmiliar with. By the 4th century, the short gladius stops being used in favour of the long spatha and the oval shield replaced the rectangular one. This signifies a transition from fighting up close to fighting “at arm’s length” that also meant fighting lasted for a longer period of time. This illustrates similarities in fighting between Antiquity and the Early Medieval period.

For example, both Roman and Viking fighting show the shield as an offensive weapon. The Roman’s oval shield’s narrow end meant it could be dug into the other person’s shield or be used as a ram, meaning the legionary could disarm his opponent, breach the distance and disable the combatant. In Viking style fighting, the size of the shield (from 80cm to 120cm) means the Viking would be able to ram the shield into his opponent’s arm and render him unable to use his sword.

 

During fighting, swords rarely ever touched: The size of shields and the techniques that developed around them meant swords rarely ever binded or crossed, if they ever did usually the weight of the sword would be used in a pulling or pushing motion to use the opponent’s weight against themselves. During antiquity, swords were usually too short and the shield had predominance over how warriors would fight. Even in Germanic cultures the sword, being notoriously tall, revolved around using the shield (which was passed down to Viking style fighting). Sword binding became recognisable with the innovation of sword hand guards (to incorporate long swords in disciplined formations). By the late Medieval and Early Renaissance period, swords became the stereotype we recognise today (the type X long sword, predominant from the 13th century onwards) and as a result the shield size decreased, which meant the user became more dependent on the sword to take over the responsibilities the shield once had.

The nature of formation fighting in antiquity and the Early Medieval period meant there was no need to bind swords. For example in these periods, sword handles  were much smaller and, until the late medieval period, hand guards were be wooden. This served as an advantage in two ways. Firstly, the lack of hand-guards indicated the hand was easily protected and rarely vulnerable; putting the sword hand outwards meant the possibility of a severed hand. Secondly, the wooden hand guard meant the opponent’s sword would get caught on it (if the hand was swung for) and that made it difficult to remove. This is especially evident with the small ‘half-bowl’ Roman hand guards that were designed for the opponent’s sword to get caught, for last-ditch protection (the fact it was also predominant in longer, cavalry, swords meant there was more of a risk of cavalrymen exposing their arms).

Shield Butts were not for pummelling the opponent: To put it simply, why pummel your opponent at arm’s length with a longer shield? In most cases, the shield was large enough to cover the whole body. To go in simply to punch the opponent with the shield butt was not practical, the enemy would simply go around the strike. The reason why this stereotype is so common is because of films and series’. Shield butts served the purpose of making the enemy’s sword get caught on the shield and made it harder for them to draw their sword away and that enabled the warrior to go in for the kill.

Sword fighting was a process of feeling: Different cultures have different terminologies for this but essentially it boils down to feeling the motion and mechanics of interacting with the opponent. This becomes prevalent with Antiquity and Early Medieval sword fighting. It is literally feeling the movement and physics of combating a foe and accustoming oneself to it. For example, Vikings would emphasise this in binding shields to practice moving and turning (something emphasised by the later treatises).

An open letter to feminism

Dear Feminism,

You want all of this attention like you care, like you really give it your all in a new and innovative way but instead you’ve led gender equality into an oppressive monotony. What started the movement was a sense of gross injustice: major female equality; no political power; no equal pay, health care etc and what has far concluded the movement this generation is a sense of un-realistic formality; a predictable, aggressive, mindless mess that asks you not of your sense of equality or productivity but privilidge, lack of individuality and dictating to men to follow directions. You ask of us our ability to get hit, abused or molested by women, not do anything about it and walk away; you ask of us to mindlessly not question aggression and abuse of privilidge in the face of blunt attacks. You ask of us our willingless to mudanley put up with another woman (in the most skimpiest outfit imaginable) who says she is being infringed upon as a woman in the first world. You ask of us to deal with the most hysterical and unlogical claims imaginable and the public have to roll with it because democracies are based on public and the most outspoken opinion; with the somehow counter-intuitive reply of ‘thank you’. No bias issues here that could possibly get out of hand and cripple any attempts to help women become equal.

Today’s feminism is like a spoiled rich kid who gets everything laid out for them their entire life and, when it comes to making it on their own, they can’t take it. You expect everyone to love you because ‘you are who you are’, part of the ‘illustrious women’s lineage’, nothing could possibly be wrong with you. You look just like a feminist but you’re not one. You’re a pampered, doughy, snob wearing nice clothes expected to graduate scott free because your parent’s in a lumb. Why would you need to improve? Why would you need to get any better? Everyone just agrees with you ideas because you’re a feminist.

The worst thing is men get the blame for this no matter what, as if we’re a child who has had their favourite toy taken away. Stop patronizing me as a guy and constantly berating that I’m someone who has no control over how I act. The world is a more mixed and diverse place than it was in the 1970’s. As a guy, when people tell me “what I do dictates how I view women as objects”, it patronizes me because it says I can’t make decisions for myself. It looks down on me as if I’m a child who’s had their favourite toy taken away and that’s what’s so fustrating; it suggests as a man, I’m bred to make decisions which are outside my control and automatically loose control when I see a woman in provocative clothes. That just comments on how much people lack self-esteem that they would stoop to that level. On the other hand, as a man I’m biologically geared to have sex with women (unless gay). When I see a naked woman or a woman in provocative clothes, I will look and it takes self-control not to. It’s like an office of bears being surrounded by salmon covered in honey, you can’t help but pay attention. If you have the confidence to be genuine and aren’t insecure, things like this don’t happen. In fact, life is better.

Feminist argue about ‘objectifying females’ and the body but maybe looking at naked women as being taboo is a comment on how we perceive the body. The body is such as beautiful and sexual thing; sex itself is a beautiful experience. From such young ages, we’re taught the body is taboo and genetalia is something we’re forbidden to talk about. Why are we then suprised when a moral crisis breaks out over stuff like this? And why sexual fustration, porn and rapes occur? Rape isn’t sexual, in fact it’s a form of psychological domination, what does that suggest? It suggests we are raised in this society where our sexualities aren’t made comfortable and it gives rise to uncomfortable acts. We’re so uncomfortable with ourselves that we need to dominante people. And does society help this? No, they shove things down our throats every five minutes because they know we’ll look. We’re the only people to blame for this: both the actors and reactors, both men and women. We need to sort ourselves out before we can sort this out and understand why it’s happening before pointing to finger.

So feminists, here is some advice:

1) Stop being so activist in your approach where it isn’t necessary. Help women in less fortunate countries who are actually being oppressed (rather than small cases in the first world where one person does something).

2) Be more logical concise and don’t rely on hysteria, you are just reinforcing the stereotype that women are overly-emotional. Infact, don’t be hysterical at all.

3) Show other women that gender should not be used as a privilidge to abuse, for example hitting men and not expecting to be hit yourself or expecting to be the first people to be entitled to something for everyone.

4) Encourage respect and moderate attitude to the female body. Encourage women to act as individuals and rational human beings.

Before I end this, let me extend an olive branch so you can understand where I am coming from.

Coming from a Greek Cypriot background, I know how relative this is to Western societies and their former colonies. In Britain, every woman wears the most tight and revealing clothing imaginable, sexualises themselves and says “I am a woman, I have the right to be independent and do what I want”. But they’re not being independent, they’re doing it for the men (unless gay). They don’t make the effort and get dressed up for no reason, they’re trying to show their sexiness to someone. Most importantly, all it shows is insecurity. It shows they’re so insecure, they will dress up in the most skimpiest clothes and say they are being independent about it. Really, they have been so brainwashed to be insecure about everything about them that they don’t know what they want.

In Cyprus, there’s no commoditising of sexes. In the Western World, everything is seen with a materialistic outlook: what can I buy? What is on offer? What is being sold to me? This is seen in relationships and what women look for in men. When she is interested in men, she is looking for ways to disqualify him. Whereas men QUALIFY, women DISQUALIFY. What this does is commoditieses and makes things competitive. More disgustingly, it objectifies being with a person. The person is the goal, they are the prize, they can be commoditised. This is a fantasy, a largely Western one and the results are destructive. This is inbuilt to our language, even to the point of relationships. It explains a lot. It explains for example why divorce rates are the highest from voluntary marriages in the West. It explains how cheating has become such as huge phenomena in the West rather than elsewhere. This fantasy is just that; it’s an illusion: it doesn’t exist.

Where I am from, the women are beautiful and are raised to be emotionally strong so there is no insecurity. Even the most beautiful Greek women on their best night out dress moderately (long dresses, loose tops, trousers etc) with little to show because they know they don’t need to: they know they’re beautiful anyway. If they have any insecurities, they’re part of a close-knit community that helps them and determines they are valuable. There’s no media, no television, no magazines and no internet jamming down their throat that there’s something wrong with them (the only people who sexualise themselves in Cyprus are either on T.V, insecure or British Cypriots anyway, you can tell). That’s such as superficial thing anyway and is only really a part of Western culture. It’s done no favours and never will do.

What I am trying to say is we will understand gender equality when it is here and we stop talking about it in it’s context of gender oppression, that feminists seem to emphasise all the time; it’s in our language. When Emma Watson did the speech for gender equality I was watching with optimism but then she called it ‘He for she’. She implied that men need to be dependant on women and work for them, that we can’t be independant ourselves, that we can’t make choices and everything is geared up towards women like a servant in the king’s court. Why should I do that? What if I don’t want to be ‘for she’ and be independant?

The first symptom of solving a problem is recognising it exists and we should realise that these problems, if we are to overcome them, cannot be mundanley controlled in these clear-cut categories that feminists create; that somehow oppression is there when it isn’t and women should contantly be vigilant and on the lookout for it in themselves. That just creates insecurity and that’s the last thing we need if we are to go forwards.

Best Wishes
Nicholas Petrou

 


Did we do a good job in Afghanistan?

So Nato forces are officially out of Afghanistan after ten years. A lot of people ask “was it worth it in the long run?” and though I can’t provide a definitive answer, a comparison to provide some perspective might bring some insight.

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and occupied it for 10 years and, like the Bush administration, the same rhetoric was used: to prevent Islamic terrorism, battle ‘international terrorism and rebels’ and prevent Islamic fundementalism from spreading (in the USSR’s predominantly Muslim populated areas). The USSR, like the U.S, had invested the equivalent of billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s infastructure, government and Army. It conducted joint operations with the Afghan army and attempted to secularise it’s society; it also attempted to impose a communist government (as ISAF has attempted to impose a Democratic government).

However, that’s really where the similarity ends. Three huge differences stand out, which suggests the war in Afghanistan has been successful compared to the way we peceive it. 1) Militarily, 2) Treatment of the population and 3) The political process.
1) In military terms, Afghanistan has been relatively successful for ISAF forces. It had a standing of 41,124 ISAF personnel and 352,000 Afghan security personnel. In terms of casualties, 3,479 military personnel have died (the majority being the United States Army), 23,000 have been wounded (though there is no detail on what sort of incarsertations). With private contractors and the Afghan Army, casualties have ammoutned to 14,859 which is not particularly high compared to previous occupational wars fought in the past. It has also managed to maintain Afghan national forces and delegate complete control to them by early 2014. It also has the backing of the international community.

In contrast, some 620,000 Soviets served in the 10 years of occupation. Out of those, 75,000 were killed, 469,685 became sick or wounded from malnourishment, disintery and combat and 10,751 became invalids. Among the equipment lost were 118 jets, 333 helicopters, 147 tanks, 1,314 APCs, 433 artillery pieces and mortars, 1138 communication vehicles and 11,369 trucks. Comparatively, ISAF losses are minute and unlike the Soviet Army, all of ISAF’s military objectives have been completed. By 1989, the Afghan army was still suffering from mass desertions and constant sabotages from inside by Mujahadeen fighters. At it’s peak, the Afghan army numbered 55,000 but was constantly having to stabalise itself. The Soviet Army also, as well as treating the Afghan population brutally, treated its own personnel with the same level of brutality.
2) Treatment of the population has been relatively mixed (due to public perception) but overall things have been successful. Though there have been cases of suspects being terrorized, being sent to quantanamo bay, bombings in civilian areas etc (the ugly and inhumane part of the war), these have been relatively small. According to United Nations reports, 76% of civilian casualties have been from the Taliban and this has been due to using civilians as human shields, deliberately targeting civilians and both IED’s (improvised explosive devices) and suicide bombings (which has been massivley condemned by Islamic communities in the West as un-Islamic). Civilian casualties are estimated to have been 16,725–19,013 with none displaced. Treatment wise, Nato has adopted a “winning the hearts and mind’s” approach as well as delegating control for Afghanistan to conduct their own operations and be self-sufficient. Treatment by the Taliban has been brutal, esepcially for ISAF soldiers captured. Often soldiers have been tortured or beheaded.

The Soviet Invasion was anything other than a success. The war can be generalised as a war of oppression and terror. Though that was not the intention, it became the outcome from the early years of occupation. Deprivation in the Soviet Army meant soldiers often pillaged and looted from the local population. The Soviet doctrine of ‘imposed control’ meant a show of force was implemented where it was never needed. For example, though Afghans initially welcomed the invasion, the Soviet Army illustrated indescriminate torture and killings. Prisoners of war were often killed or set alight with gasolene or thrown off helicopters as many of the soldiers couldn’t be bothered to take them back to base. These killings were also accidental and through the war, Soviet soldiers and pilots often dismissed caution. In one account, a caravan was shot up which turned out to be a marriage procession. In another, miscommunication meant villages were destroyed by helicopters before pilots realised their mistakes. Thousands of Soviet mines were laid which incacerated a lot of Afghans killed or incacerated and still pose a problem today. Whole villages and town were destroyed by the Soviet Army and airforce indescriminately because they suspected Mujahadeen fighters were there (rather than any of the attacks being based on intelligence). Brutality was also characterised by the weed and heroine addiction of many of the soldiers which exaggerated brutality further. It was a strategy to pummel the Afghan population into submission and was a failure. The Afghan Army were constantly plagued by desertions and soldiers would usually join the Mujahadeen, taking their weapons with them.

Afghanistan’s losses were staggering. Roughly 1.3 million Afghans were killed. A third of the pre-war population of 5.5 million people had fled abroad and another 2 million were internationally displaced. By the end of 1989, the whole of the Afghan population (with the exception of the Army, the government and administration personnel) were either fighting the Soviets or housing fighters. Soviet soldiers were skinned alived, tortured or forced to convert to Islam and fight their own army (beheadings on came when the Taliban rose to power).
3) For ISAF, the political process has been favourable. Many members of the Afghan government make up former Mujahadeen members who fought the Soviets. ISAF has always had the advantage of former Mujahadeen who have fought the Taliban during the Afghan civil war (the Mujahadeen hate the Taliban, it’s leader Massoud was killed a day before 9/11 and the remnants have formed the Northern Alliance which provide the modern political structure for Afghanistan’s government today). That has been tremendous help and it seems the hearts and minds of the majority of Afghanistan’s population have benefitted from it due to political stability after ISAF left in early 2014. Literacy has grown drastically in an otherwise illiterate population and now there is a greater calling for the education of women and equal rights, something that was unimaginable 10 years ago.

The Soviets were never as successful in forming a stable government giving control over to the Afghan government. Before the invasion, the communist leader Amin was in power and was characterised as a brutal and shrewed politician, often purging his own party and indescriminantly killing what he considered were ‘political enemies’. His brtuality sparked the formation of mujahadeen resistance and his forcing of secularisation on a largely traditional Islamic society caused conflict. His modernisation policies such as collectivisation also caused farms to be destroyed (something the Soviet war also caused) which meant farmers supplemented their former crops with poppy’s, leading Afghanistan to be the number one supplier of heroine in the world.

From this, I conclude the war in Afghanistan has been an overall success. There’s probably information to say otherwise and I think we like to point the finger the majority of the time and say “the war was immoral, we tortured and killed the population and it’s an illegal war”, but to what extent? (in the most dispassionate way possible) that children get an education, women get equal treatment and don’t have the fear of having acid thrown in their faces? That slowly but surely Afghan society will become stable and able to defend against Islamic extremism? That they will be able to provide their children with a rich and encouraging future and soon we may see more Afghans around the world prospering from the global economy like we do?

Don’t get me wrong, there are a whole list of problems that stretch all the way to the British coast and that’s undeniable but I like to think (compared to previous wars), with the resources and military we have and the results, we have made a positive impact that will have long term effects that can’t be imposed on Afghanistan as many powers as many have attempted to in the past.

I don’t know what the future has but I like to think we did a good job. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Beyond the Golden Gate: The Byzantine Army at War

Relatively little has been discussed in relation to the Byzantine army. It is only recently that finds and historical academia have begun to put together a more coherent image of the Byzantine Army by analysing its tactics and formations.  This article will effectively outline the way the Byzantine army operated during its existence in brief and concise way.

Before I begin, it is important to analyse the context of the Byzantine Empire itself: indeed an ‘army’ is representative of the society it derives from and an army can provide context to social, economic and cultural structures. The word ‘Byzantine’ itself is inherently problematic. It was coined by the Historian Hieronymus Wolf in 1557, a century after Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, which referenced the Ancient Greek town Byzantion that existed before and during the Roman Empire. The Byzantines simply referred to themselves as ‘Romaion’ (Romans) and this is important in understand how the the inhabitants of the Empire perceived themselves. The Byzantines didn’t simply view themselves as successors to the Roman Empire, they saw themselves as the Roman Empire manifested in the present and the direct manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth. Its introverted culture constantly analysed its own identity and this constant re-defining of identity was based on the celestial (its theological relation to God on earth), cultural and its past glories. From this, it justified itself as the synergy between Greco-Roman culture. With an abundance of economic wealth, one of the oldest surviving capital cities and a large standardised army, the Byzantine Empire can be regarded as the superpower of the medieval age.

It is also important to analyse the constant biases and prejudices that are attached to Byzantine sources. Byzantine sources followed the tradition of Greco-Roman Sources that held cultural and generalising connotations and this was not something exclusive to medieval times. There had always been an issue of biasness and source reliability in the Greco-Roman world. The ‘father of History’ Herodotus constantly makes generalising comments on ‘barbarian’ cultures (those who were considered non-Greek speaking/cultured) and places the value of his own culture as paramount. Indeed many Byzantine sources share similar features. For example, many Byzantine military manuals were prescriptive rather than descriptive.

This cultural biasness is also embodied by etymological generalisations. For example, in reference to the Vikings, there are constant problems made by Byzantine terminology. The word ‘Viking’ itself is a feminine Norse term which means ‘expedition’. This group was defined as Rus/ Rhos by the Byzantines, meaning ‘related to rowing’ but the terms was widely stretched to include a vast array of cultures which in appearance looked similar but in detail differed substantially. For example, this can be observed from linguistic, physical and cultural differences in Slavic, Rus Slavs and Scandinavians who formed the traders, explorers and warriors that came to Constantinople. Even the Thematic Emperor’s guards, the Varangians (meaning ‘sworn men’) consisted of a diverse group of Norsemen, Rus and Anglo-Saxons (which were grouped and separated from other Western Units in the Byzantine Empire). In this sense, these cultural definitions should be seen as generalisations, as the term ‘barbarian’ was in the Ancient Greco-Roman World, and should be taken for granted.

To gain an understanding of the Byzantine army and its constant changes in the Medieval Age, the Army will be split into Early, Thematic and Byzantine Armies. However there are similar overlaping themes. As with most medieval armies, the majority of Byzantine soldiers were seasonal fighters (with the exception of a few professional institutions such as the Athanatoi created by the Emperor John I Tzimiskes). However, unlike the armies of Western Europe, the Byzantine army was not dependant on feudal obligations to raise large amounts of manpower but was reliant on bureaucratic system and a stable system of pay by coin and land (which was known as the theme system). This, coinciding with adapting different methods of fighting, meant it could easily field a flexible and mobile army consisting of specialised elements.

Much of what we know of Byzantine warfare comes from the Byzantine military manuals- they provide us with a wealth of information on equipment, doctrines, tactics and deployment. However there is an inherit danger of readings these manuals as descriptive. Most of them, especially the Strategikon, were probably more prescriptive than descriptive in nature.

 

  1. The Early Byzantine Army

Cavalry

At the time of Justinian, the ideal soldier was the double-armed cavalryman, equipped with iron armour, a spear or a long cavalry lance (kontos), a buckler strapped to the shoulder and a powerful composite bow. In this way, the cavalry was considered at the forefront of medieval warfare (a method adapted from the Parthians and later the Sassanid Persians). As the Kontos was 12 feet long, it is likely that the role of elite cavalrymen in the army had the diverse skill to use both weapons. This differed from Germanic units which had little experience in horse archery and preferred the kontos or a shorter spear.

From the last decades of the 6th Century and onwards, the heavy cavalry units, both Cursores (‘runners’ or ‘attackers’) and Defensores (‘defenders) were combined formations, consisting of both lancers and bowmen (as opposed to the previous period where each cavalryman ideally carried both lance and bow). Their main defensive weapon was a complete set of armour, covering their entire body from head to toe (or angle as mentioned in the Strategikon). The most common type of armour was scale and chain mail, but lamellar armour was increasingly used. To complete the armour, a sturd, tasselled helmet and a shield was prescribed. The men in the front ranks used kontarion as their main weapon whilst the rear ranks used composite bows (or javelins if they lacked proper training). The front cavalrymen were expected to ride horses with frontal armour, made of either iron or felt.

Infantry

Although the Strategikon describes infantrymen equipped like Late Roman heavy infantry, it is highly unlikely that most Early Byzantine heavy infantry wore metal armour. The chapters on heavy infantry in the Strategikon were copied from an earlier Late Roman military manuscripts and there is little reason to believe that the best heavy infantryman had more than a shield, cloth armour and perhaps a helmet for protection. His main offensive weapon was a spear, around six feet in length that could be thrust or cast. In the Strategikon, infantrymen were instructed to throw their spears when facing infantry and thrust their spears when facing cavalry. Behind the first ranks of spearmen, archers or javalinmen were drawn up to provide missile support.

 

Appearance

Uniforms were probably only used by the elite of the infantry. Most infantry units were therefore distinguishable by their shield patterns and standards. Cavalry units and the best infantry were issued uniforms and equipment from the Imperial Factories- elite cavalry units are described as wearing white uniforms on parade. Colours for other units included different shades of red, greyish white, light green and light blue.

Late Roman Infantry carried draco standards, while the cavalry units had either draco or vexillatio standards. By the time of Maurice, the swallow-tailed bandae flags replaced the draco and vexillatio. Like other pieces of equipment this was probably adopted from the Avars. The bandum was a simple square or a rectangular flag with two, three or four streamers, each measuring several meters in length. Units in the same division (mere) were to use the same or similar banner, and the cavalry unit’s pennons, the flammulae, were used to distinguish one unit from another (although they were probably stowed away before battle).

The general’s banner stood out in both shape and design and would have been of a different pattern than the other banners in the army.

 

Deployment

In the earliest of Byzantine Armies, the standard battle deployment was to form one or several battle lines- the troops in each line supporting the line in front of them. As in Late Roman armies, the infantry (or dismounted cavalrymen) occupied the centre while the cavalry were placed on the flanks. From the second part of the 6th Century onwards, the Byzantines could field all-cavalry campaign armies with any infantry acting only as a rear guard. In such armies, the centre of the second battleline would be made up of the elite and best equipped heavy cavalry, such as the Optimates. A battle deployment several lines deep may have been used in historical battles, but in battle accounts, the armies seem to have been drawn up in a single line with only one or two units held back as an emergency reserve.

Tactics

As Justinian’s campaign armies were almost always outnumbered, they often chose to let the enemy come to them. The infantry or dismounted cavalry centre was expected to hold the enemy charge, giving the cavalry on the flanks time to decimate the enemy ranks with bowfire before moving against their flanks. This was the tactic used by Belisarus at Dara aginst the Persians, by Narses at Taginae against the Goths and at Casilinus against the Franks

The Strategikon introduced cavalry maneuvers that called for heavy cavalry to be able to fight as both attacker and defender in close order formation. Whole units or even army wings would take on the role of attackers while their comrades acted as defenders. The attackers would break out of each unit from their positions on both wings, and then advance towards the enemy, either in close or open order formation. The defenders in the centre of the unit remained in place in close order formation, providing the attackers with a safe rallying point. If the enemy was defeated, the defenders would advance with the attackers. Should both the attackers and defenders be swept away in an enemy charge, the troops in the second line would act as a rallying point and turn back the enemy. In the prescribed deployment of a cavalry army, the best and most reliable troops, such as the Optimates and the general’s Bucellarii, were stationed at the centre of the second line, while regular regiments, such as the Vexillationes, Foederati and Illyrikiniani regiments were drawn up in the first line.

 

  1. The Thematic Byzantine Army

During the reign of Leo and that of his successor in the Syrian Dynasty, vast territories were lost By the Islamic and Bulgar conquests. A new organisation of provinces, probably found by Heraclius in 660 AD- 662 AD was employed. Anatolia, and later the Balkans and Greece, were divided into themes. The themata (roughly meaning provinces) was almost an entitiy in itself, with an army of soliders who received land grants as payment for their military service. During the reign of Constantine V (741- 775 AD), the Byzantine army was further strengthened by the introduction of the tagmata– an imperial force of professional soldiers based in and around Constantinople.

The themata became the backbone of the Byzantine Military. In Each theme, a strategos held command of the theme’s troops which consisted of both cavalry and infantry units. Through the hard and attritional struggles with Bulgars and Islam, the Byzantines devised a new way of dealing with intruding enemies: shadowing warfare- essentially guerrilla tactics. Avoiding most pitched battles, the themata soldiers would retreat to strongholds, then make hit-and-run attacks on an advancing army’s flanks and baggade train. The most famous such border warriors were the Akritai cavalrymen, described in the heroic poem Digenes Akrites.

In early themes, the strategos had the command in each theme. The theme was divided into turmai of up to 5,000 men, commanded by a Turmaches. Each turma was further sub-divided into druggoi of up to 1,000 men, commanded by Comites (counts).

From the mid-10th Century, theme armies became gradually smaller, and as a consequence, units decreased in size. In such smaller themes, a Doux, not a strategos held command. Druggoi, commanded by Drungarios, were now usually up to 400 men in size. Several in so called taxiarchia or chiliarchia of around 1000 men, which were commanded by a Taxiarches or Chiliarches. Two such units (2000 men) were collectively called turma, commanded by Turmaches. In the mid- 10 Century, Emperor Nikephorus II phokas added a fiscal dimension to the theme system- basically meaning that individuals with enough money could avoid military duty. As a result, each theme now had a small professional force in addition to its regular semi-professional units. Such professional provincial forces were called tagmata– however, these should not be confused with the ‘real’ Imperial Tagmata.

The Imperial Tagmata armies were based around Constantinople. In case of larger enemy incursions, one or more tagmata armies, led by a Domestikos or the Emperor himself, could rapidly support a themata army. This was founded by Constantine V to limit the power of themata Armies. For example, troops from the large Obsikion theme had rebelled five times since the creation of the theme. The tagmata he created consisted of six tagma (units), each with 2000-4000 men.

 

Thematic Byzantine Army at War

In a number of military treatises written in the 9th and 10th centuries, various emperors and generals emphasised the importance of thorough training and the issuing of good equipment. The best deal with the different enemies the Byzantines faced, specialised troop types and formations appeared. The theme system was generally effective and ensured troop morale was high. As many generals moved on to become emperors, the army had high priority and it showed on the battlefield.

The 10th Century marked the pinnacle of Byzantine military sophistication. The expected standard of drill and discipline in the 10th Century manuals were high; the importance of well-trained heavy infantry was repeatedly stressed. Unlike the 6th Century, heavy infantry were now seen as an indispensible part of any campaign army.

The Paecepta Militaria, attributed to Emperor Nikephorus II Phokas, described the role of both cavalry and infantry and detail. As in previous manuals, the main shock arm of the army was the heavy cavalry, but blocks of heavy infantry augmented by slingers, javalinen and archers were deemed essential as they provided the cavalry with an effective rearguard and a safe rallying point. As in the Strategikon, it also described the enemies of the Byzantines, their tactics and how to counter them.

In broad terms, the development during the Thematic period moved towards increasingly specialised and better equipped troops. Armies became more professional as the size of themata armies decreased.

Cavalry

Heavy Cavalry-Throughout this period, heavy cavalry formed the backbone of the Byzantine army. Themata Kavallaroi were generally less well-equipped and trained than their tagmata counterparts, but in some themes, heavy cavalry participated in campaigns frequently, and had years of experience in cavalry warfare. Tagamta cavalry wore chain or lamellar armour, wooden or iron greaves, mail hoods and iron helmets. Themata heavy cavalry probably had more modest protection. The main close combat weapon was the kontarion (which unlike it’s early counterpart measured 10-12 feet)- other weapons included long spathion straight sword and the sabre-like paramerion sword. From the rear ranks, archers equipped with comparatively short composite bows supported by their front rank comrades. Like their predecessors, Byzantine Kavallarioi were trained to fight as Cursores and Defensores.

Light Cavalry- Two types of light cavalry are described: hyperkerastai (acting as outflankers on the right flank and as guards on the left flank) and the prokousatores (scouts or forerunners). The prokousatores forerunners had few archers than regular kavallarioi.

The Kataphraktoi were a unique unit of extra-heavily armoured cavalry. They were drawn up in a new blunt-nosed wedge formation, especially designed to smash the enemy infantry line. The front and sides of the wedge formation was made up of cavalry clad in armour from head to toe. The majority of these cavalrymen were armed with siderorabdion– heavy all-rion maces, almost a metre in length, with a sharp three, four, or six cornered heads. The formation had a ‘soft’ centre, consisting of horse archers.

Infantry

Heavy infantry- The basic equipment of a themata Kontaratoi (‘spear bearers’) was his shield and his spear. Byzantine infantrymen were noted for their spears, 3 meters (9 feet) or more in length. Shields came in both regular and large sizes. In the early Thematic period, oval shields were used- from the mid-10th Century and onwards, almond-shaped, and later kite shields, became increasingly common. Body armour was fairly modest in nature, and consisted of a coat of coarse silk padded with cotton, ‘as thick as can be stitched’. Though fairly effective against missiles, it must have offered less protection against lance heads and concussive weapons. To complete their protective equipment, kontaratoi wore cloth wrappings around a felt hat, meaning they effectively wore turbans. Veteran kontaratoi probably had access to such prized pieces of equipment such as iron helmets and even lamellar armour or chain mail armour.

Light infantry- By the mid- 10 Century, each taxiarchia of heavy infantry spearmen (approx. 1000 men) had two light infantry attachments: 200 javalinmen, archers and slingers, and 100 menulatoi. Archers and slingers wore no armour, but were protected only a small circular shield strapped to their left arm. Javalinmen had a slightly higher degree of protection- they wore padded armour and carried medium sized shields.

The Menulatoi First described in the Tactica treatise by Emperor Leo VI, the Menulatoi were especially courageous spearmen equipped like heavy infantrymen though with smaller, round shields. Instead of the standard spear, the Menulatoi carried shorter, sturdier spears made from a single piece of cornel wood. Each Kontaratoi spearman unit had an attachment of Menulatoi who were used specifically as a countermeasure against enemy heavy cavalry charges. In case of a cavalry charge, the Menulatoi rushed forwards from their position behind the kontararoi. They then formed a line in front of the kontaratoi and lowered their spears to only a foot or two above ground, thus striking the unprotected bellies of the charging horses.

Appearance

From the early Thematic period onwards, the appearance of the Byzantine army changed markedly. In each theme, the imperial work shops were responsible for manufacturing arms and equipment for the troops, and as a result, a typical Byzantine force looked much more uniform than in the 6th and 7th Centuries. Shields, banners and uniforms of each unit were if not identical, then at least similar.

Theory and practice

Much of what the treatises describes (or prescribes) is echoed in accounts of battles in the Thematic period. Especially in the reigns of Nikephorus II Phokas and his successor John Tzimisces, heavy Byzantine cavalry supported by infantry were fielded in battles in both the East and West. From Arab historians, we have accounts of Byzantine extra-heavily armoured cavalry, ‘who advanced on horse which seemed to have no legs’, completely covered in iron.

By the time Basil II led his campaigns against the Bulgars, elite heavy infantry, most notably the Varagian guards, had become the army’s most important troops- the rugged Balkan terrain simply was not suitable for heavy cavalry.

 

 

  1. The Late Byzantines

The battle of Manzikert in 1071, loses by Alexios Komnenos and the distintergration of the theme system due to large landowners becoming increasingly powerful, meant the Byzantine army began to slowly disintegrate. It could no longer provide the army with a body of trained and equipped semi-professional soldiers. During the ten years following Mazikert, a civil war rendered the Byzantine army useless and the victorious Turks quickly seized most of Asia Minor where they found their own empire with the impudent name of Rum (Rome). As most of the eastern themes had been lost, the Theme system was now finally shattered. Although the old Tagmata were reinforced with newly found regiments, the major part of the army was now drawn from allies and mercenaries.

The military successes of the 10th and early 11th centuries were followed by a period of complacency and eratic government. The army and navy were left to decline, and were subject to drastic reductions. From the middle of the 11th century, the Theme system was largely replaced by wholly professional regiments, and the number of mercenary units grew. As mentioned, both the standing and imperial forces were now called tagmata. Initially there were differences in quality and equipment between the two types of tagmata, but by the end of the Komnenian period they had largely become indistinguishable. Formally, the thematic names and titles of regiments and commanders remained unchanged until Manzikert, but both the size of units and their efficiency shrank.

In the late 11th Century, various emperors tried to re-establish a reasonably dependable military, Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes being the most successful. But his efforts failed to produce any long term results, and after the defeat at Manzikert and the civil wars that followed, the army become almost non-existent. When Alexios Komnenos assembled forces in Constantinople in 1081, a mere few hundred men was all that could be mustered. Needless to say, Alexios Komnenos had to start from scratch. He and his successors did manage to recreate some native Byzantine regiments (such as the Athnatoi), but as a whole, Komnenian Byzantine Emperors had to rely mostly on mercenary troops; European knights, Turkish horse archers, Slavic and Balkan warriors and horsemen all served under the Imperial banner. Most guard units were also made up of foreigners: Turcopoloi (descendants of settled Turks), Skythikoi (horse archers from various nomadic tribes), Latinikoi (Western knights) and Varangoi (increasingly consisting of mercenaries of from all over Europe).

Some of Alexios’s successors tried to revitalise the Byzantine army by reintroducing militia systems (such as the Pronoia system introduced b John II Komnenos) but neither proved very successful.

To some extent the Komnenian Byzantine armies used the tactics and deployment described in the great treatises of the 11th Century. Although the overall quality and skill had declined, the Byzantine army still managed to restore some of its previous glory. But as a large part of the army was made up of mercenaries, the hired unit’s individual type of tactics dictated the way they were used. The fighting style was no longer distinctly Byzantine but more a reflection of whatever mercenaries were employed at that particular time.

While European military technological advances had resulted in improved armour, better crossbows and bows, the Byzantines stubbornly held on to their tactics and armoury.

 

Bibliography

  1. Early Byzantine Armies
  • Macdowall, Simon: “Late Roman Infantryman/Cavalryman”. Osprey
  • Dennis, George T.: “Maurice’s Strategikon. The Strategikon, attributed to Emperor Maurice”.
  • Regan, Geoffrey: First Crusader- Byzantium’s Holy Wars. On Emperor Heraclius’ campaigns against the Persians”.
  • Procopius: “The Persian Wars”, “The Vandalic Wars”, “the Gothic Wars”.
  • Agathias: “The Histories”
  • Theophylacy Simocatta: “The History: The history of Byzantium in the late 6th Century”.

     2. Thematic Byzantine Armies

  • Blondal, Sigfus: “The Varangians of Byzantium”.
  • McGeer, Eric: Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth”.
  • Dennis, George: “Three Byzantine Military Treatises”.
  • Theophanes Continuatus Leo the Deacon and Johannes Skylitzrs (These are in German and are hard to come by!)

3. Late Byzantine Armies

  • Heath, Ian: “Armies and Enemies of the Crusade”.
  • Heath, Ian: “Byzantine Armies 1181-1461 AD”. Osprey
  • Nicolle, David: Hungary and the Fall of Eastern Europe. Osprey.