Byzantine military manuals

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This article lists and briefly discusses the most important of a large number of treatises on military science produced in the Byzantine Empire.


The East Roman or Byzantine Empire was, for much of its history, one of the major powers of the medieval world. The inheritor of the traditions and institutions of the Roman Empire, throughout its history it was assailed on all sides by various numerically superior enemies. The Empire therefore maintained a highly sophisticated military system, which relied on discipline, training, knowledge of tactics and a well-organized support system. A crucial element in the maintenance and spreading of this military know-how, along with traditional histories, were the various treatises and practical manuals. These continued a tradition that stretched back to Xenophon and Aeneas the Tactician, and many Byzantine military manuals excerpt or adapt the works of ancient authors, especially Aelian[1] and Onasander.[2]

List of works[edit]

Byzantine hand-siphon for projecting Greek fire, llumination from the Poliorcetica of Hero of Byzantium

A large corpus of Byzantine military literature survives. Characteristically Byzantine manuals were first produced in the sixth century. They greatly proliferate in the tenth century, when the Byzantines embarked on their conquests in the East and the Balkans, but production abated after the early eleventh century. There is some evidence of similar works being written in the Palaiologan era, but with one exception, none survives.[3]

  • Urbicius (Οὐρβίκιος) wrote a military pamphlet addressed to Anastasius I (r. 491–518). In the manuscripts it is transmitted as two independent tracts. First, the Tacticon is an epitome of the first part (chs. 1–32) of Arrian’s Ars Tactica (AD 136/7), a conventional treatment of an idealised infantry phalanx.[4] Second, the Epitedeuma (Ἐπιτήδευμα) or 'Invention' is Urbicius’ own design for a type of portable cheval de frise.[5] The attribution to Urbicius of a third work, the so-called ‘Cynegeticus’, is spurious and results from confused scholarship in the 1930s. One manuscript (M) ascribes Maurice’s Strategikon to Urbicius, but this is demonstrably the copyist’s error.[6]
  • Syrianus Magister (formerly the “Sixth-Century Byzantine Anonymous” or Anonymus Byzantinus) wrote a large, wide-ranging military compendium. Three substantial sections survive, which are transmitted independently in the manuscript tradition and have been edited in separate publications. Scholarship dating as far back as the seventeenth century has consistently recognised the textual unity of these three pieces, but errors in mid twentieth-century studies prolonged their separation.[7] The three components are: 1: a treatise on land warfare under the modern titles Περὶ Στρατηγικῆς or De Re Strategica, most recently published as "The Anonymous Byzantine Treatise on Strategy".[8] 2: a treatise on military oratory under the modern title Rhetorica Militaris, often ascribed to the same "Anonymous".[9] 3: the Naumachia (Ναυμαχίαι), a treatise on naval warfare, which in the unique manuscript bears an ascription to a Syrianus Magister (Ναυμαχίαι Συριανοῦ Μαγίστρου).[10] Recognition of the common authorship of all three sections necessarily assigns the entire compendium to this author. A new edition of the complete compendium is in preparation.[11] The constituent parts of the compendium have traditionally been dated to the sixth century, but the evidence is weak and all recent studies have identified features more congruent with a date of composition in the ninth century.[12]
  • The Strategikon[13] attributed to the Emperor Maurice (r. 582–602) was compiled in the late sixth century. It is a large twelve-book compendium treating all aspects of contemporary land warfare. The author is especially concerned to clarify procedures for the deployment and tactics of cavalry, particularly in response to Avar victories in the 580s-590s. He favours indirect forms of combat - ambushes, ruses, nocturnal raids and skirmishing on difficult terrain - and he also exhibits a good understanding of military psychology and morale. Book XI offers an innovative analysis of the fighting methods, customs and habitat of the Empire's most significant enemies, as well as recommendations for campaigning north of the Danube against the Slavs, another strategic concern of the 590s. The Strategikon exercised a profound influence upon the subsequent Byzantine genre.
  • The Problemata of the Emperor Leo VI the Wise (r. 886–912),[14] compiled ca. 890s, comprise excerpts of Maurice's Strategikon arranged in a question-and-answer format.[15]
  • The Tactica of Leo VI[16] was written ca. 895-908. At its core is a re-edition of Maurice's Strategikon, often reproduced verbatim, and additional material drawn from Hellenistic military treatises, especially Onasander.[15][17] However, it also includes expansions and modifications to reflect contemporary practice, especially against the Arabs and the Hungarians, as well as chapters on naval warfare (peri naumachias).[18]
  • The Sylloge Tacticorum (συλλογὴ τακτικῶν), compiled in the latter half of the 10th century, possibly during the reign of Constantine VII.[19] The text is divided into two major sections: the first (chapters 1 to 56) draws upon various earlier authors and provides advice on generalship, battle formations and tactics, and siege warfare. The second half (chapters 57 to 102) deals with mechanival devices employed by past generals, drawing chiefly from ancient authors.[19] Nevertheless, sections on contemporary warfare and comparison with earlier models (chapters 30-39 and 46-47) are also included, and were used as a basis for the later Praecepta Militaria.[19]
  • The De velitatione bellica (περὶ παραδρομῆς) attributed to Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (r. 963–969), but actually written on his orders, possibly by his brother Leo.[20] It is an essay on light infantry and skirmishing warfare, written ca. 975 based on Phokas' notes on the cross-border raids and skirmishes between Byzantines and Arabs during the first half of the 10th century.[21] Emphasis is given on reconnaissance, the use of the terrain and night, and instructions are provided on various scenarios, from countering raids or large-scale invasions to sieges.[21]
  • The Praecepta militaria (στρατηγικὴ ἔκθεσις καὶ σύνταξις Νικηφόρου δεσπότου) of Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas, six chapters written in c. 965, which presents the army of the latter 10th century during the "Byzantine Reconquest" in the East.[22] Various operational scenarios are discussed; for a pitched battle, Phokas describes the use of a strong infantry formation that anchors the battle line and the use of heavy cavalry, especially cataphracts, as the main striking force.[22] The text also includes information on the setting up of camps, reconnaissance and the use of spies, as well as the army's religious ceremonies. The chapters are included and partially amended to account for the early 11th-century situation in the later Tactica of Nikephoros Ouranos.[22]
  • The Parangelmata Poliorcetica, a manual on siege warfare, by the so-called Hero of Byzantium.
  • The Tactica of Nikephoros Ouranos, one of the best generals of Basil II, written ca. 1000. It draws upon the Praecepta, Leo VI's Tactica and other works, but also includes chapters from Ouranos' own experience on raiding and sieges.
  • The Strategikon of Kekaumenos, written ca. 1075–1078. Not strictly a military manual, it contains general advice in military, administrative and household affairs, often illustrated by examples from 11th century events.
  • Instructions and Prescriptions for a Lord who has wars to fight and government to exercise, written by Theodore Palaiologos, Marquess of Montferrat in Greek and then translated into Latin (in the 1320s) and French. It is however more influenced by Western models, rather than reflecting Byzantine tradition.[23][24]


  1. ^ A. Dain, L’Histoire du texte d’Élien le Tacticien des origines à la Fin du Moyen Âge (Paris 1946)
  2. ^ A. Dain, Les manuscrits d’Onésandros (Paris 1930) 145–157
  3. ^ Bartusis (1997), p. 10
  4. ^ R. Förster (1877), ‘Studien zu den griechischen Taktikern’, Hermes 12:426–71 at 467–71
  5. ^ G. Greatrex, H. Elton and R. Burgess (2005), ‘Urbicius’ Epitedeuma: an edition, translation and commentary’, Byzantinische Zeitschrift 98:35–74
  6. ^ P. Rance, The Etymologicum Magnum and the "Fragment of Urbicius", Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 47 (2007) 193–224
  7. ^ See most recently F. Lammert, 'Die älteste erhaltene Schrift über Seetaktik und ihre Beziehung zum Anonymus Byzantinus des 6. Jahrhunderts, zu Vegetius und zu Aineias’ Strategika, Klio 33 (1940) 271–788; C. Zuckerman, 'The Compendium of Syrianus Magister', Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 40 (1990) 209–224; S. Cosentino, "Syrianos’ Strategikon– a 9th-Century Source?", Bizantinistica 2 (2000) 243–80; P. Rance, The Date of the Military Compendium of Syrianus Magister (formerly the Sixth-Century Anonymus Byzantinus), Byzantinische Zeitschrift 100.2 (2007) 701-737
  8. ^ G.T. Dennis (ed.), Three Byzantine Military Treatises (CFHB Series Washingtoniensis 25] Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., 1985) 10–135
  9. ^ H. Köchly (ed.), Rhetorica Militaris (Δημηγορίαι προτρεπτικαὶ πρὸς ἀνδρείαν ἐκ διαφόρων ἀφορμῶν λαμβάνουσαι τὰς ὑποθέσεις) in Index Lectionum in Literarum Universitate Turicensi… habendarum (Zurich 1855-6)
  10. ^ J.H. Pryor and E.M. Jeffreys (ed. with Eng. trans.), The Age of the ΔΡΟΜΩΝ. The Byzantine Navy ca 500 – 1204 ([The Medieval Mediterranean 62] Leiden 2006) 455–481
  11. ^ C. Zuckerman, 'The Compendium of Syrianus Magister', Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 40 (1990) 209–224
  12. ^ B. Baldwin, 'On the Date of the Anonymous ΠΕΡΙ ΣΤΡΑΤΗΓΙΚΗΣ', Byzantinische Zeitschrift 81 (1988) 290–3; A.D. Lee and J. Shepard, 'A Double Life: Placing the Peri Presbeon', Byzantinoslavica 52 (1991) 15–39 esp. 25–30; S. Cosentino, 'Syrianos’ Strategikon– a 9th-Century Source?', Bizantinistica 2 (2000) 243-80; P. Rance, The Date of the Military Compendium of Syrianus Magister (formerly the Sixth-Century Anonymus Byzantinus), Byzantinische Zeitschrift 100.2 (2007) 701-737
  13. ^ G.T. Dennis (ed.), Das Strategikon des Maurikios, Ger. trans. E. Gamillscheg (CFHB 17] Vienna 1981); G.T. Dennis (Eng. trans.), Maurice’s Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy (Philadelphia 1984)
  14. ^ A. Dain (ed.), Leonis VI Sapientis Problemata (Paris 1935)
  15. ^ a b Antonopoulou, Theodora (1997). The Homilies of the Emperor Leo VI. BRILL. p. 10. ISBN 978-90-04-10814-1. 
  16. ^ G.T. Dennis (ed.), The Taktika of Leo VI. Text, Translation and Commentary ([CFHB 49] Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. 2010).
  17. ^ Haldon (1999), pp. 109–110
  18. ^ Kazhdan (1991), p. 2008
  19. ^ a b c Kazhdan (1991), p. 1980
  20. ^ Dennis (1985), pp. 139–140
  21. ^ a b Kazhdan (1991), p. 615
  22. ^ a b c Kazhdan (1991), p. 1709
  23. ^ Bartusis (1997), pp. 10–11
  24. ^ Haldon (1999), pp. 5–6


  • Bartusis, Mark C. (1997), The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society 1204–1453, University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0-8122-1620-2 
  • Dennis, George T. (1985). Three Byzantine Military Treatises. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks. ISBN 0-88402-140-8. 
  • Haldon, John F. (1999). Warfare, state and society in the Byzantine world, 565–1204. Routledge. ISBN 1-85728-494-1. 
  • Holmes, Catherine; Waring, Judith (2002). Literacy, Education and Manuscript Transmission in Byzantium and Beyond. BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-12096-9. 
  • Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991). Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6. 
  • Sullivan, Dennis F. (2000). Siegecraft: Two Tenth-century Instructional Manuals. Dumbarton Oaks. ISBN 0-88402-270-6. 
  • Tougher, Shaun (1997). The Reign of Leo VI (886–912): Politics and People. BRILL. ISBN 90-04-09777-5. 
  • Treadgold, Warren T. (1995). Byzantium and Its Army, 284–1081. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3163-2. 
  • Trombley, Frank (1997). "The Taktika of Nikephoros Ouranos and Military Encyclopaedism". Pre-modern Encyclopaedic Texts: Proceedings of the Second COMERS Congress, Groningen, 1–4 July 1996. BRILL. pp. 261–274. ISBN 90-04-10830-0.