Thematic Byzantine

Thematic Byzantine

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Historical Overview Section

At the beginning of this period the rapid Muslim conquest of Syria and Egypt and consequent Byzantine losses in manpower and territory meant that the Empire found itself struggling for survival. In order to respond to this unprecedented crisis, the Empire was drastically reorganized. Although some elements of the earlier administration survived until the latter seventh century, the remaining imperial territory in Asia Minor was divided into five large themata, each governed by a stratēgos ("general"), who also commanded the military forces of each thema. Until the early 20th century, the establishment of the themes was attributed by many historians, like George Ostrogorsky, to the Emperor Heraclius. This view has since been overturned, and modern historians date their creation to the period from the 640s to the 660s, under Constans II. The Thematic system underpinned Byzantine resurgence in this era, with soldiers being settled under near-permanent military controlled regions outside the capital, and controlling the areas they were based in - the "Themes".

In the 670s the chief enemy in the West were the Early Bulgars whoe were pushed south of the Danube by the arrival of the Western Turkish and Khazars, and in 680 Byzantine forces which had been sent to disperse these new settlements were defeated. In the next year Constantine IV signed a treaty with the Early Bulgar khan Asparukh, and the new Bulgarian state assumed sovereignty over a number of Slavic tribes which had previously, at least in name, recognized Byzantine rule. In 687–688, the emperor Justinian II led an expedition against the Slavs and Bulgars which made significant gains, although the fact that he had to fight his way from Thrace to Macedonia demonstrates the degree to which Byzantine power in the north Balkans had declined. The final Heraclian emperor, Justinian II, attempted to break the power of the urban aristocracy through severe taxation and the appointment of "outsiders" to administrative posts. He was driven from power in 695, and took shelter first with the Western Turkish and Khazar Khazars and then with the Bulgars. In 705 he returned to Constantinople with the armies of the Bulgar khan Tervel, retook the throne, and instituted a reign of terror against his enemies. With his final overthrow in 711, supported once more by the urban aristocracy, the Heraclian dynasty came to an end. Leo III the Isaurian turned back the Ummayad Arab assault in 718, and achieved a major victory at the expense of the Arabs in 740. He also addressed himself to the task of reorganizing and consolidating the themes in Asia Minor. His successor, Constantine V, won noteworthy victories in northern Syria, and thoroughly undermined Early Bulgar strength. In the beginning of the 9th century the Arabs captured Crete, and successfully attacked Sicily, but on 3 September 863, general Petronas attained a huge victory against the emir of Melitene. Under the leadership of Krum the Early Bulgar threat also re-emerged, but in 814 Krum's son, Omortag, arranged a peace with the Byzantine Empire.

By 867, the empire had re-stabilised its position in both the east and the west, and the efficiency of its defensive military structure enabled its emperors to begin planning wars of reconquest in the east. The process of reconquest began with variable fortunes. The temporary reconquest of Crete (843) was followed by a crushing Byzantine defeat on the Bosporus, while the emperors were unable to prevent the ongoing Muslim Fatimid Egyptian conquest of Sicily (827–902). Using present day Tunisia as their launching pad, the Fatimid Egyptians conquered Palermo in 831, Messina in 842, Enna in 859, Syracuse in 878, Catania in 900 and the final Byzantine stronghold, the fortress of Taormina, in 902. These drawbacks were later counterbalanced by a victorious expedition against Fatimid Egyptian Damietta in Egypt (856), the defeat of the Emir of Melitene (863), the confirmation of the imperial authority over Dalmatia (867), and Basil I's offensives towards the Euphrates (870s). Unlike the deteriorating situation in Sicily, Basil I handled the situation in southern Italy well enough and the province would remain in Byzantine hands for the next 200 years. The threat from the Fatimid Egyptians was meanwhile reduced by inner struggles against the Islamic Early North African Dynasties and by the rise of the Early Ottoman Turkish in the east. Muslims received assistance however from the Paulician sect, which had found a large following in the eastern provinces of the Empire and, facing persecution under the Byzantines, often fought under the Fatimid Egyptian flag. It took several campaigns to subdue the Paulicians, who were eventually defeated by Basil I. In 904, disaster struck the empire when its second city, Thessaloniki, was sacked by an Arab fleet led by a Byzantine renegade. The Byzantine military responded by destroying an Arab fleet in 908, and sacking the city of Laodicea in Syria two years later. Despite this revenge, the Byzantines were still unable to strike a decisive blow against the Fatimid Egyptian s, who inflicted a crushing defeat on the imperial forces when they attempted to regain Crete in 911.

The situation on the border with the Arab territories remained fluid, with the Byzantines alternatively on the offensive or defensive. The Rus Varangians, who attacked Constantinople for the first time in 860, constituted another new challenge. In 941 they appeared on the Asian shore of the Bosporus, but this time they were crushed, showing the improvements in the Byzantine military position after 907, when only diplomacy had been able to push back the invaders. The vanquisher of the Rus was the famous general John Kourkouas, who continued the offensive with other noteworthy victories in Mesopotamia (943): these culminated in the reconquest of Edessa (944), which was especially celebrated for the return to Constantinople of the venerated Mandylion. A busy time indeed for those employed in the Themes.

The Varangians
Nikephorian Byzantine Emperior Basil II's distrust of the native Byzantine guardsmen led him to employ "Varangians" as his personal bodyguard. This new force became known as the Varangian Guard and recruits from Sweden, Denmark, and Norway filled the ranks until the late 11th century - so many Scandinavians left to enlist in the guard that a medieval Swedish law stated that no one could inherit while staying in "Greece" - the then Scandinavian term for the Byzantine empire!! More Varangians arrived in 988 when Basil II requested military assistance from Rus Prince Vladimir I of Kiev to help defend his throne. In compliance with the treaty made by his father Vladimir sent 6,000 men to Basil. In 989 these Varangian, led by Basil II himself landed at Chrysopolis to defeat the rebel general Bardas Phokas. On the field of battle, Phokas died of a stroke in full view of his opponent; upon the death of their leader, Phokas' troops turned and fled. The brutality of the Varangians was noted when they pursued the fleeing army and "cheerfully hacked them to pieces."

The Byzantine Armies in order

  • Early Byzantine : 493 - 550 The Eastern Roman Empire & Belisarius on the offensive - Mixed & Bw/Sw Cv units and "legionaries" - D&F
  • Maurikian Byzantine : 550 - 650 Loss of Africa, The Strategikon, War with Persia & The Arabs - Good quality Ln & Bw/Sw Cv, Mixed Skoutatoi but no LH - D&F
  • Thematic Byzantine : 650 - 963 The Thematic System, Tagmatic units fighting the Caliphates - Mixed units & Bw/Sw Cv, Average & Poor units, Cataphracts - D&F
  • Nikephorian Byzantine : 963 - 1071 Basil bashes the Bulgars, Normans conquer Italy, Manzikert loss to the Turks - Bw* or Ln Cavalry, Varangians, lots of mixed spearmen & some Normans - D&F
  • Komnenan Byzantine : 1071 - 1204 Manzikert to Fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders - Lancer Cv, some KN, Varangians - S&S
  • Post Latin Conquest Byzantine : 1204 - 1261 Nikaia, Epiros, Trebizond vs the Latin Kingdoms - Frankish Kn, lots of archers, - S&S
  • Late Byzantine : 1261 - 1461 Byzantium, Epirus, Morea & Trebizond until their fall to the Turks - Cv Lancers, 4 Kn, lots of archers - EE

Using the army in FoG

  • The Skoutatoi have an unusual composition, of 3/4 spears, 1/4 LF Bow. This is to simulare the fact that the bowmen were not that good or important in such units. The Strategicon manual manual says they should be 5 ranks deep with 4 ranks of spear and 1 of Bw, but that would be really silly in FoG. Using them as Sp/Sp/LF/Sp is perhaps the closest approximation to the historical formation and has the advantage of leaving some spare bases of Sp to replace losses, so that POAs are not lost. It may, however, be a bit "belt and braces" and not entirely points effective.

UK Tournament Results with this army

User-contributed links about this army:


  • Slav - Early South Slav . Date restrictions: None Book: Decline and Fall Page: 18 - Mostly MF JLS (pre 850) or HF Def Sp (post 850). Some nice 4-strong Bw & LF BGs can bulk up army size though

15mm Manufacturers supplying figures for this army

You can see some of the figures in the Ancients Photo Gallery also on this site
Many manufacturers produce just one "Byzantine" range, not specifying which era they are for (but most are Maurkikian era I suspect). All generic "Byzantine" ranges have been listed here, together with any specifically noted for particular eras. For Latin or other allied troops, use Crusader or other knights of a similar timeframe. 700AD - in the Thematic list - is as good a date as any for round shields to start to change over to kite shields.

Image Image Image Image Image

Core Troops

Which troops are absolutely needed for this army, and what are your thoughts on how to organise, paint and buy them.

Army Lists

Sample army lists for this army

Name of Army / Date

  • Using asterisks inthe edit mode creates a bulleted list in the actual site
  • This is a lot easier to do than easier than setting up tables
  • For FoG I suggest listing your army in order or march
  • with troop desctiptions on each line, for example
  • 4 HF Armoured Average Drilled Impact Foot Swordsmen
  • 8 LG Undrilled Unarmoured Poor Bowen
  • Dont forget to include your Generals !!!

Include any notes you want here, including comments on how to use - or play against - the army.

Remember to leave a line before you copy the above section as a template for your own list

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Created by admin. Last Modification: Tuesday 12 of November, 2019 19:00:29 GMT by admin. (Version 15)
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