Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Battle of Kalavrye - Eastern vs Western Empire Civil War

Byzantine Infantry

Civil War Drains The Empire
  • In 1078 AD the Byzantines squandered precious resources fighting each other instead of attacking the invading Muslim Turks.

The great weakness of the Roman Empire was always the lack of a peaceful way to change rulers and a lack of the old Roman Assemblies giving a voice to the people. Unless you were lucky enough to be the son of the Emperor your only path to power was to kill the current Emperor, his family and supporters.

The resulting civil wars often badly drained and damaged the state and its ability to defend itself from invaders.

The disastrous Roman defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 was perhaps more of a result of internal political treachery than the military power of the Muslim Turks.

Unrest and war was everywhere. 
Miliaresion of Michael VII Doukas.

The Normans were attacking the Byzantine city of Bari in Italy, there was a revolt in the Balkans to restore the Bulgarian state, Balkans invasions by the Pechenegs and the Cumans and Serbian princes renouncing allegiance to the Empire.

In addition the Byzantines were defeated by the Seljuk Turks in attempts to recapture Asia Minor for the Empire.

Emperor Michael VII Doukas was worthless. He refused to honor the treaty with the Turks, increased taxes and luxury spending while not funding the army. Broke he had Imperial officials confiscate private property and the wealth of the church.

With near anarchy the state of affairs the Emperor devalues the money supply. This gave his the nickname Parapinakes or "minus a quarter."

In 1078 the ruling class could stand it no longer. Two generals, Nikephoros Bryennios and Nikephoros Botaneiates, simultaneously revolted at opposite ends of the Empire and marched on Constantinople.

From The West  -  Nikephoros Bryennios, the Doux of military theme of Dyrrhachium on the Albania coast, was proclaimed Emperor by his troops. Marching from Dyrrhachium towards Constantinople he picked up support along the way including pledges of loyalty from most of the Empire's Balkans field army.

Bryennios first tried to negotiate with Michael VII, but the Emperor rejected any demands. Bryennios then sent his brother John to lay siege to Constantinople. Unable to penetrate the walls of the city the rebel forces withdrew.

The Doux then worked on isolating Constantinople from the remaining Imperial territories of Europe. He hoped the Emperor would give up once isolated.

Princess Anna Comnena (1083 - 1153)
In her history, The Alexiad, Anna tells the story of the Empire in her father's time.

Anna Comnena:  "Nicephorus Bryennius, who was upseting the whole of the West by putting the crown on his own head, and proclaiming himself Emperor of the Romans.

Nicephorus Bryennius, on the other hand, who had been appointed Duke of Dyrrachium in the time of the Emperor Michael, had designs on the throne even before Nicephorus became Emperor, and meditated a revolt against Michael. . . . he used Dyrrachium as a jumping-off place for over-running all the Western provinces.

Bryennius was a very clever warrior, as well as of most illustrious descent, conspicuous by height of stature, and beauty of face, and preeminent among his fellows by the weightiness of his judgment, and the strength of his arms. He was, indeed, a man fit for kingship, and his persuasive powers, and his skill in conversation, were such as to draw all to him even at first sight; consequently, by unanimous consent both of soldiers and civilians, he was accorded the first place and deemed worthy to rule over both the Eastern and Western dominions. 

On his approaching any town, it would receive him with suppliant hands, and send him on to the next with acclaim. Not only Botaniates was disturbed by this news, but it also created a ferment in the home-army, and reduced the whole kingdom to despair; and, consequently, it was decided to dispatch my father, Alexius Comnenus, lately elected "Domestic of the Schools," against Bryennius with all available forces."

The rebel army of Nikephoros Bryennios was unable
to break through the walls of Constantinople.

From The East  -  From the Asian end of the Empire the Strategos of the Anatolic Theme, Nikephoros Botaneiates, marched to Nicaea where he was declared Emperor by his troops. The shame of this event comes from the Muslim Seljuk Turks providing 2,000 troops for Botaneiates and his coup.

With Roman armies on two sides of Constantinople the Emperor saw no reason to go on. Michael made arrangements and on March 31, 1078 peacefully retired to become a monk at a monastery.  Later he was elevated to metropolitan of Ephesus.

At this point Strategos Bontaneiates' "election" as Emperor was ratified by the nobility and clergy of Constantinople. Nikephoros III Botaneiates entered Constantinople in triumph and was crowned by the Patriarch.

Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates among his senior court officials.
Nikephoros was declared Emperor by his troops in Asia Minor.

The Byzantine Empire in 1081 three years after the Battle of Kalavrye.
In 1078 Nikephoros was declared Emperor in Nicaea. This map
shows that even during this short period the city and additional lands
were lost to the invading Muslim Turks.

Coming from the east that was conquered by the Turks, the newly crowned Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates lacked the troops to fight Bryennios who had most of the Roman army from the Balkans on his side.

Princess Anna Comnena:  "In these regions (Asia Minor) the fortunes of the Roman Empire had sunk to their lowest ebb. For the armies of the East were dispersed in all directions, because the Turks had over-spread, and gained command of, nearly all the countries between the Euxine Sea [#Black Sea] and the Hellespont, and the Aegean and Syrian Seas, and the various bays, especially those which wash Pamphylia, Cilicia, and empty themselves into the Egyptian Sea. 

Such was the position of the Eastern armies, whilst in the West, so many legions had flocked to Bryennius' standard that the Roman Empire was left with quite a small and inadequate army. There still remained to her a few "Immortals" who had only recently grasped spear and sword, and a few soldiers from Coma, and a Celtic regiment, that had shrunk to a small number of men. These were given to Alexius, my father, and at the same time allied troops were called for from the Turks, and the Emperor's Council ordered Alexius to start and engage in battle with Bryennius, for he relied not so much on the army accompanying him as on the man's ingenuity and cleverness in military matters."

The Emperor played for time. The Emperor (76 years old) offered Bryennius the rank of Caesar and his support for the throne when he died. Negotiations took place, but the Emperor finally rejected the conditions of Bryennius and ordered Alexios Komnenos (Anna's father) to go on the attack.

Forces Involved
Byzantine Kentekarkhes

The battle was to be fought just outside of Constantinople on the plain of Kedoktos.

Army of the West  -  Doux Bryennius brought about 12,000 seasoned soldiers to the field from the Balkans. Marching with the Doux were Tagmata regiments from Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace. In addition there were Frankish mercenaries and the Imperial Guard Hetaireia regiment.

Army of the East  -  Estimates for the size of Alexios Komnenos' force range from a low of 5,500 to 10,000.  I would guess that splitting the difference at about 7,500 might be close to reality.

It is doubtful that an army at the low end of the estimate would have ever left the safety of the walls of Constantinople. Also, with manpower shortages in the east the high end estimate is just too high.

As it is the army Alexios had was a patchwork of units. He had 2,000 Turkish horse-archers, another 2,000 Roman Chomatenoi troops from central Asia Minor and a few hundred Frankish knights from Italy. 

Joining the army was a newly raise Tagmata regiment of Immortals. The unit was formed from remnants of eastern Tagmata units defeated by the Turks. The regiment was created to help form the nucleus of a new eastern army. The Immortals may have been cavalry like many Tagmata units.

The Battle of Kalavrye

Bryennios arranged his army in three divisions, each in two lines, as prescribed by Byzantine military manuals.

Princess Anna Comnena:  "Bryennius, on being informed that Alexius Comnenus had cut off his approaches and was encamped near Calaura, drew up his troops in the following order and marched against him. He posted the main army on the right and left wings, and gave the command of the right to his brother John; the men in this wing numbered 5,000, and were Italians, and those belonging to the detachment of the famous Maniaces, as well as some horse-soldiers from Thessaly, and a detachment, of no mean birth, of the "Hetaireia." The other, the left wing, was led by Catacalon Tarchaniotes, and was composed of fully-armed Macedonians and Thracians, numbering in all about 3,000. Bryennius himself held the centre of the phalanx, consisting of Macedonians and Thracians, and the picked men of the whole nobility. All the Thessalians were on horseback."

In addition on his left Bryennios had a detachment of Pecheneg Turkic cavalry.

The outnumbered Alexios Komnenos divided his force under two commands. Alexios took charge of the Immortals and Franks on the left while General Constantine Katakalon commanded the Chomatenoi and the Turks on the right. The Turks were given the task of guarding the right flank and keeping an eye on the Pecheneg cavalry.

While the allied Turks watched the right flank, Alexios formed a flanking detachment from the Immortals. Most likely they were cavalry. Alexios hid them out of sight in a hollow on the left. Being outnumbered Alexios hoped this hidden unit would join with the Immortals at just the right time to create confusion and allow hime to break through Bryennios' lines.

The initial dispositions and opening phase of the battle,
showing Alexios's failed ambush

As the right-wing of the rebel army under John advanced, Alexios' flanking force came out of hiding and attacked. There was some initial success and confusion, but that did not last. John brought up a second line of troops to attack the ambush force. Alexios' flanking unit dissolved in panic and fled directly into the Immortals.

Instead of Bryennios' army being ambushed and in panic it was the Immortals that now broke, abandoned their posts in panic and fled well to the rear of Alexios' army with the troops of Bryennios inflicting some casualties.

Alexios and his retinue were fighting with the Franks and did not realize that his entire left flank had just vanished.

Princess Anna Comnena:  Then, my father, hurling himself into the midst of the foe, . . . . kept on fighting desperately. But when he saw that his phalanx was utterly broken, and fleeing in all directions he collected the more courageous souls (who were six in all) . . . Alexius turned in the opposite direction, and decided to retire to a short distance from Bryennius' army; then he collected the men personally known to him from the dispersed soldiery, re-organized them, and returned to the work.

Alexios saw Bryennios' Imperial parade horse and grabbed it. As he reached a hill to the rear Alexios rallied what troops he could saying Bryennios was dead and showing the horse as proof.

The second phase of the battle: Alexios's right flank collapses and he himself barely manages to escape encirclement. Bryennios's Pechenegs break off pursuit and attack their own camp, throwing Bryennios's rear into confusion.

Talk about confusion of the battlefield. Alexios' left wing had collapsed. On the right wing the Chomatenoi troops who were fighting Tarchaneiotes' were now being flanked and attacked in the rear by the Pechenegs cavalry.

Somehow the Pechenegs managed to get by Alexios' allied Turkish cavalry without a fight. Had the two opposing allied units cut a deal? or was it just incompetence?

In any case, the Franks in the Roman center were now in danger of a double envelopment. They dismounted and offered to surrender. Units on both sides were mixed and disorganized and even started to relax thinking the battle was over.

Two Major Events - The allied Pechenegs broke off their attacks on Alexios and attacked and looted the camp of Bryennios. Now the allied Turks helping Alexios arrived on the battlefield. The battle was not over yet.

Princess Anna Comnena:  They spoil their victory by looting. For all the slaves and camp followers who formed the rear of Bryennius' army had pressed forward into the ranks from fear of being killed by the Scythians; and as this crowd was continually augmented by others who had escaped from the hands of the Scythians, no small confusion arose in the ranks, and the standards became commingled.

The final phase of the battle: Alexios regroups his army, attacks Bryennios's forces, and lures them into a new ambush. The rebel army collapses, and Bryennios himself is captured.

I will let the princess tell the story.

Princess Anna Comnena:  Then fortune, too, contributed the following incident to Alexius' success. A detachment of the Turkish allies happened upon Alexius, the Great Domestic, and on hearing that he had restored the battle, and asking where the enemy was, they accompanied him, my father, to a little hill, and when my father pointed out the army, they looked down upon it from an observation tower, as it were. And this was the appearance of Bryennius' army; the men were all mixed up anyhow, the lines had not yet been re-formed, and, as if they had already carried off the victory, they were acting carelessly and thought themselves out of danger. 

And they had slackened off chiefly because after the initial rout of our men, my father's contingent of Franks had gone over to Bryennius. For when the Franks dismounted from their horses and offered their right hands to Bryennius, according to their ancestral custom in giving pledges, men came running up towards them from all sides to see what was happening. For like a trumpet-blast the rumour had resounded throughout the army that the Franks had joined them and deserted their Commander-in-Chief, Alexius. 

The officers with my father, and the newly-arrived Turks, duly noted this state of confusion, and as a result they divided their forces into three parties and ordered two to remain in ambush somewhere on the spot, and the third they commanded to advance against the foe. The whole of this plan was due to Alexius.

The Turks did not attack all together, drawn up regularly into phalanx, but separately and in small groups, standing some distance apart from each other; then he ordered each squadron to attack, charging the enemy with their horses, and to let loose heavy showers of darts. Following upon the Turks came my father Alexius, the author of this strategy, with as many of his scattered men as the occasion warranted. 

Next, one of the "Immortals" with Alexius, a hot-headed, venturesome fellow, spurred on his horse, and out-riding the others, dashed at full gallop straight at Bryennius, and thrust his spear with great violence against the latter's breast. Bryennius for his part whipped out his sword quickly from its sheath, and before the spear could be driven home, he cut it in two, and struck his adversary on the collar bone, and bringing down the blow with the whole power of his arm, cut away the man's whole arm, breastplate included.

The Turks, too, one group following up another, overshadowed the army with their showers of darts. Bryennius' men were naturally taken aback by the sudden attack, yet they collected themselves, formed themselves into line, and sustained the shock of the battle, mutually exhorting each other to play the man. 

The Turks, however, and my father, held their ground for a short time against the enemy, and then planned to retire in regular order to a little distance, in order to lure on the enemy, and draw them by guile to the ambuscade. When they had reached the first ambush, they wheeled round, and met the enemy face to face. 

The Horse Archer
The allied Muslim Turks brought their deadly horse-archers to the battlefield.
The Turks moved at high speed while raining arrows into enemy formations.

Forthwith, at a given signal, those in ambush rode through them like swarms of wasps, from various directions, and with their loud war-cries, and shouts, and incessant shooting, not only filled the ears of Bryennius' men with a terrible din, but also utterly obscured their sight by showering arrows upon them from all sides. Hereupon, as the army of Bryennius could no longer put up any resistance (for by now all, both men and horses, were sorely wounded), they turned their standard to retreat, and offered their backs as a target to their foes. 

But Bryennius himself, although very weary from fighting, shewed his courage and mettle. For at one minute, he would turn to right or left to strike a pursuer, and at the next, carefully and cleverly arrange the details of the retreat. He was assisted by his brother on the one side, and his son on the other, and by their heroic defence on that occasion they seemed to the enemy miraculous.

(The Turks captured Bryennius and) led him away to Alexius Comnenus, who happened to be standing not, far from the spot where Bryennius was captured, and was busy drawing up his own men, and the Turks, into line, and inciting them to battle. News of Bryennius' capture had already been brought by heralds, and then the man himself was placed before the General, and a terrifying object he certainly was, both when fighting, and when captured. 

And now, having secured Bryennius in this manner, Alexius Comnenus sent him away as the prize of his spear .to the. Emperor Botaniates, without doing any injury whatsoever to his eyes. For it was not the nature of Alexius to proceed to extremities against his opponents after their capture as he considered that being captured was in itself sufficient punishment, but after their capture he treated them with clemency, friendliness and generosity. This clemency he now displayed towards Bryennius, for after his capture he accompanied him a fair distance, and when they reached the place called ... he said to him (for he was anxious to relieve the man's despondency and restore hope in him); "Let us get off our horses and sit down and rest awhile." 

But Bryennius, in fear of his life resembled a maniac, and was by no means in need of rest, for how should a man be who has lost all hope of life? And yet he immediately complied with the General's wish, for a slave readily submits to every command, more especially if he is a prisoner of war. When the two leaders had dismounted, Alexius at once lay down on some green grass, as if on a couch, while Bryennius sat further off, and rested his head on the roots of a tall oak. My father slept, but "gentle sleep," as it is called in sweet poetry, did not visit the other.

If later on undesirable things happened to Bryennius, the blame must be laid on certain of the Emperor's courtiers; my father was blameless. Such then was the end of Bryennius' rebellion.


The Emperor blinded Nikephoros Bryennios for his failure to capture the throne. Perhaps out of pity (which I doubt) or to restore unity, the Emperor restored Bryennios' titles and fortune. After Alexios became Emperor in 1081 even more honors were given to him, and even though blinded Bryennios helped defend Adrianople from a rebel attack in 1095.

Bryennios son or grandson Nikephoros Bryennios the Younger married Alexios' daughter Anna Comnena, became an important general and rose to the rank of Caesar.

The remaining troops of the defeated army of the west were gathered up by General Nikephoros Basilakes who then declared himself Emperor and continued the revolt. In 1079 Alexios put down the revolt and Basilakes fled to Thessalonica where he attempted to defend the city.

Seeing the writing on the wall, his own troops turned over Basilakes to the Emperor who ordered that he be blinded.

Princess Anna Comnena
Anna Comnena, was a Byzantine princess, scholar, physician, hospital
administrator, and historian. She was the daughter of the Byzantine
Emperor Alexios I and his wife Irene Doukaina.

East Roman Reenactors  -  (Twitter)
Emperor Alexios I Komnenos &
wife Empress Irene Doukaina
I have no idea where this image came from. A movie perhaps. The picture gives us a good feel for the period where then General Alexios took the eastern Roman Army to victory against the Roman Army of the Balkans in this article. 
Only three years after the battle Alexios became Emperor as the 79 year old Nikephoros III Botaneiates retired to a monastery.
Also See Alexios in Battle:
Battle of Dyrrhachium

(Anna Comnena)      (Michael VII Doukas)      (Nikephoros III Botaneiates)

(Byzantine Infantry)      (Kalavrye)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sophia Palaiologina, The Last Byzantine Princess

The Grand Duchess of Moscow
Zoe (Sophia) Palaiologina, Grand Duchess of Moscow, was a niece of the last 
Byzantine Emperor Constantine XI and second wife of Ivan III of Moscow.

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was not the total collapse of the Eastern Roman Empire. In southern Greece the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea continued on until 1460.

The title despotes should not be confused with the term of despotism. A Despot was a senior Byzantine court title. From the mid-fourteenth century on the title was given to Imperial princes to act as the local ruler of semi-autonomous provinces of the Empire.

So in 1453 we see the surviving members of the Palaiologos dynasty (Demetrios and Thomas) ruling over the Despotate of Morea. These were two brothers of the last Emperor Constantine XI.
Thomas Palaiologos
Despot of Morea

The brothers not only failed to send any troops to defend Constantinople, but their incompetence sparked a massive revolt by 30,000 Albanians and Greeks against their rule.

The situation was so bad the brothers invited the Muslim Turks in to kill their own people in order to retain power.

Morea became a vassalage of the Ottoman Empire. After falling behind in tribute, Sultan Mehmed II invaded in May, 1460. The Turks quickly breached the Hexamilion wall and put an end to this last shred of the Roman Empire.

Demetrios became a prisoner of the Ottomans. Thomas, his wife Catherine and children Zoe (Sophia), Andreas, Manuel and Helena a fled to Corfu and then Thomas went to Rome.

Thomas was already recognized as the legitimate heir to the throne by the Pope. Leaving his children behind in Corfu, in 1461 Thomas made a ceremonial entrance into Rome and the Byzantine Emperor.

Zoe and her brothers remained in Corfu until recalled to Rome by their dying father in 1465.

The Despotate of Morea in southern Greece was the last holdout
against the Turks when Constantinople fell in 1453.

Zoe (Sophia) Palaiologina

As the granddaughter of Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, Zoe now became something of a political pawn of the Pope and the Catholic Church.

Zoe was born in 1440 or 49. So she could have been as young as 16 years old in 1465 when she came to Rome to see her father.

Upon her father's death Zoe and her brothers were adopted by the Pope Paul II. Her Greek name was changed to Sophia. Born to the Orthodox Church it is possible she was raised as a Catholic while living at the Court in Rome.

Care of the Imperial children was assigned to Cardinal Basilios Bessarion, the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople. Letters show the Pope closely followed the care and education of the children.

Using the Byzantine eagle.
Reverse of Ivan III's 
seal from 1472,
after his marriage with Sophia Paleologue
Sophia and her brothers received 3,600 crowns a year, or about 200 crowns a month, to pay for clothes, horses and servants. An addition 100 crowns was provided to maintain a modest household staffed by a doctor, a Latin teacher and a Greek teacher.

In 1466 the Venetian Republic invited King James II of Cyprus but he refused. Around 1467 Pope Paul II offered Sophia's hand to a Price Caracciolo. They were betrothed but the marriage never took place.

In 1467 the wife died of Grand Prince Ivan III of Moscow.  Pope Paul II viewed this as yet another opportunity to abolish the Orthodox Church and expand the influence of Rome.

Pope Paul proposed the marriage with Sophia in 1469. The Pope wanted to expand his power, but Ivan was no doubt looking at connecting to the status and rights of Byzantine royalty. The marriage negotiations went on for three years.

A marriage by proxy was held in Rome on June 1st, 1472. Queen Catherine of Bosnia was one of many who attended.  As a dowry Sophia brought 6,000 ducats. There is no record where that money came from. Possibly from the Pope.

The entourage with Cardinal Bessarion, traveled north through Italy to Germany where she took a ship to Russia. She landed in Tallinn (in modern Estonia).  At Pskov she was officially celebrated. It was noted that Sophia personally thanked the public for the celebration. On November 12, 1472 Sophia arrived in Moscow.
Ivan III
Grand Prince of Moscow

The Pope's plans fail.  Once Sophia reached the safety of Russia she abandoned the Catholic Church and returned to her Orthodox faith. The Papal Legate carrying the Latin cross was not even allowed into Moscow.

The formal wedding between Ivan and Sophia took place on November 12.

Ivan had special palaces and gardens built for Sophia. It appears Sophia was not required to be isolated with other women as was common in Russia at the time. She even greeted representatives from Europe as Queens in western Europe did.

In 1472 Sophia was effected by the formal tributary gesture Ivan made to Mongolian representatives. It is believed she urged Ivan to break with the Mongols in 1480.

Russian nights being very cold saw Grand Princess Sophia give birth to eleven children, five sons and six daughters. Among her children was the future Grand Prince of Moscow Vasili III.

With Sophia at his side Ivan developed a complicated court ceremony patterned on the Byzantine model. Ivan also began using the title "Tsar and Autocrat."  Both Ivan and his son Vasili started to use the term "Third Rome" when speaking of the Russian nation.

Sophia passed away April 7, 1503 and was buried in massive stone sarcophagus in the Ascension Convent in the Kremlin. Ivan passed two years later.

Ivan III. Note the Byzantine eagle on the shield.
With his marriage to Sophia Ivan began using the title 
Tsar and calling Moscow the Third Rome.

Ivan III and Sophia Palaiologina at court.

Destruction of Sophia Palaiologina's grave by the Communists in 1929.

(Thomas Palaiologos)      (Ivan III)      (Sophia Palaiologina)      (Ascension Convent)

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Last Roman Legion - Legio V Macedonica

Legio V Macedonica reenactors
Photo Roman Army Talk.com

Rome's Longest Lived Legion
The life of Legio V Macedonica spanned 680 years 
from 43 BC to 637 AD.

For centuries historians have been excited by the very idea of the Roman Legions. The fact that the legions were organized as identifiable individual units made battles far more interesting.  The lack of proper military histories on the Eastern Roman/Byzantine period stems not just from the lack of records, but also from the lack of these identifiable military units.  Without legions history became a bit less "sexy" for the public.

Legio V Macedonica wins the history "award" for the longest legion in existence. But was it?

Proper records of military events become fewer and fewer as you go deeper into the Byzantine period. In one form or another it is very possible that multiple Roman Legions survived into the 600s just as Legio V did.  We simply do not know.

As far as we can tell Legio V Macedonica was first organized about 43 BC by consul Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus and Octavian.  The symbol of the unit was the bull, but the eagle was also used.

There are no records of the first decades of the legion's existence. We do know two other legions, the V Urbana and the V Gallicia, that might have been connected to our unit or even early names for the unit.

Legio V was most likely fighting in 31 BC at the key Battle of Actium.  The unit was then moved to the Roman province of Macedonia where is gained its name.

In addition to Macedonia the legion also provided troops for bases in the provinces of Moesia and Dacia.

In 62 AD some units (Vexillationes) were sent to Armenia to fight against the Persians. After the Roman defeat at Rhandeia the entire legion was shipped east along with three other legions in the victorious was against the Persians.

The legion was still in the east with the Great Jewish Revolt took place in 66 AD.  Emperor Nero assigned legion V Macedonica, X Fretenisi and XV Apollinaris to put down the revolt under the command of Titus Flāvius Vespasiānus.

V Macedonica conquered Mount Gerizim from the rebels. The legion stayed in the Emmaus area for some time to insure the peace. Tombstones of several members of the legion have been found. After their commander Vaspasian was declared emperor the legion finally returned to their base in Moesia after being gone for 10 years.

In 101 the legion moved north into Dacia to help in Emperor Trajan's war on conquest. In 106 at the war's end the legion was stationed in Troesmis near the Danube Delta to keep an eye on one of the restless tribes in the area.

Over the years sub-units of the legion were detached to fight again against the Persians and again to Judea to put down another Jewish revolt.

Units of V Macedonica with units from I Italica and XI Claudia took turns guarding Roman towns in the Crimea.

Workers in the gold mines of Dacia revolted and hired a mercenary army. V Macedonica defeated the rebels. For their reward in 185 or 187 the Emperor Commudus awarded the legion the title of Pia Constans (Faithful and reliable) or Pia Fedelis (Faithful and loyal).

Click map to enlarge.
Legio V was sent to the eastern front to fight in the
Roman-Parthian War 58 - 63 AD to help force back the
growing power of the Persians in Armenia.

Legio V Macedonica
Fifth Macedonian Legion
 (Legio V Macedonica) from the city of St. Petersburg, Russia was founded in 2002 in order to reconstruct not only the daily life of the Roman legionaries and civil society, but also the atmosphere of ancient Rome

Photo  -  legvmac.ru

Uniform of a soldier from the later Eastern Roman Period.

Middle Roman Period

Entering politics the V Macedonica backed Septimius Severus in his military overthrow of the government and supported him as Emperor until his reign ended in 211.  A mixed unit of our legion and XIII Gemina accompanied Severus to Rome and fought with him against rebels and against the Persians.

During the third century the legion earned many honors. The Emperor Valerian (253-260) awarded the legion the title Pia III Fidelis III (Thrice faithful and loyal). This means they has already been awarded Pia II but we do not know when. Valerian's son Gallienus gave them the title Pia VII Fidelis VII.

The unit may have earn these honors for their mobile cavalry unit which fought against usurpers and in Gaul defeating the Gallic Emperor Victorinus.
Shield pattern of Legio V Macedonica
in the early 5th century

In 274 AD when the Emperor Aurelian gave up Dacia the legion returned to their Balkans base of Oescus for the third time. The legion helped man other limes forts such as Cebro, Sucidava and Variniana.

The cavalry unit of the legion was assigned by the Emperor Diocletian to be part of a central mobile reserve of the Roman Army.

In 293 the cavalry unit was sent to Memphis, Egypt. But when the Romans were defeated by the Sasanian Persians in 296 the unit was rushed to invade southern Mesopotamia.

After the peace treaty was signed the unit returned to Egypt where it stayed until the early 400s.

Eastern Roman Period

On January 17, 395 AD Emperor Theodosius died and we see the birth of the Eastern Roman Empire.  The death of the Emperor led to the final split of the Empire into two political entities, the West (Occidentale) and the East (Orientale). 

No longer would V Macedonica be called upon to campaign in Gaul or Italy. Orders now came exclusively from Constantinople and the defense of the east was the primary concern.

There was no sudden change. For many decades to come the Eastern Roman Army would not have looked or acted much different from its Western counterpart fighting off the barbarian invasions in Gaul and Italy.  Any changes in unit structure, uniforms and tactics would have been very gradual.  The Eastern Roman military evolution would have been based on changes the economy and the types of enemies they faced.

Section of legionary fortress wall
Oescus - Home of V Macedonica
With a population of 100,000 the fortress city of Oescus on the Danube River was home 
for Legio V Macedonica and a major economic and military strong point for the empire.

At this point in Roman history the records of military actions and individual units become thin at best.  We know that the V Macedonica went on but details of wars and fighting vanish.

The legion would have become a Comitatenses unit under the Magister Militum per Orientis. They were not considered just garrison limes troops. They were used as mobile troops that could be rushed to danger points.

Join the army and see the world. Nothing appears to have changed under Constantinople. After 400 AD troops from the legion are now found in Syria.

The legion's main base of Oescus was on the Danube which was also ground zero for endless barbarian invasions by Huns, Avars and other tribes.

Once again we lack any proper military histories from this period, and the fighting along the Danube by Legio V would have made interesting reading.

In 411 AD the Balkans was invaded by the Huns.  These barbarians descended on Legio V's base in Oescus and destroyed the city. And that simple statement on a major event is all history tells us.

Based on previous reports Legio V's units were spread out manning several different fortresses. So we can assume at least part of the legion was destroyed in the city or forced to retreat in the face of the Huns. Other units would have survived.

Legio V Macedonica is mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions in the cities of Antaeapolis and Heliopolis.

The last inscription is dated 635 or 636 AD.

The Fate of Legio V Macedonica

So we have a period from the Hun invasion to this point in Egypt where 225 years have passed with zero information on the campaigns of the legion.

If the main body of the legion in the Balkans survived the Hun invasion its individual units may have been absorbed by other Roman border forces. If the legion continued on more or less intact we have no record of it.

The most appealing possible story is this last Roman Legion gathering its forces in Egypt to fight their last fight against militant Muslim Arab invaders in 637.

The imagination soars thinking of these outnumbered men holding their bull banner high and marching to their deaths in a last defense of western civilization and the Roman Empire.

Legio V Macedonica

Sestertius minted in 247 by Philip the Arab to celebrate Dacia province and its legions, V Macedonica and XIII Gemina. Note the eagle and the lion, V's and XIII's symbols, in the reverse.

Legio V Macedonica
Photo:  legvmac.ru
The legion was based on the Danube River but fought in campaigns in 
Gaul, Italy, Greece, Dacia, Crimea, Armenia, Judea, Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Legio V Macedonica
Photo:  legvmac.ru

(Roman Legions)      (Oescus)      (Roman-Parthian War)      (Roman legions)

(Legio V Macedonica)      (Legio V Macedonica)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Roman - Byzantine Fortress of Sucidava

Sucidava fort Archaeological site in Romania.

Protecting the Roman Balkans

Sucidava is the complex late Roman fort dating from the 2nd to the 6th century AD, which had a strategic, economic and commercial importance and was situated opposite the Roman colony of Oescus (Gigen, Bulgaria). 
Before the Roman conquest, Sucidava was an important political and administrative center of the Daina tribe of Suci. The late Roman fort of Sucidava was built in the reign of Emperor Gallienus and was in use between the 3th and the 6th century AD.
After 275 AD Sucidava was a permanent military fortification, where parts of units from the V legion Macedonica were in garrison. After 324 AD the headquarter (praefectura) of the legion V Macedonica was established here. Inside the fort a large building with heating system and a paleo-Christian basilica dating from the 6th century AD was discovered.
Roman Troops manned forts along the Danube.

Near the fort there are remains of the 2400 m long bridge, which was built over the Danube in the period of the Emperor Constantine and inaugurated in 328 AD. The late Roman fort was included in the province of Dacia Ripensis as the most northern bastion of the new Late Roman province.
Systematic excavations from 1936 to 1964 at the site of Sucidava (Sykibida Procopius), situated 3 km west of modern Corabia on the north bank of the Danube, have brought to light the remains of a fortified civilian settlement of 25 ha and, at a distance of only 100 m to the south-east, the remains of a separate citadel measuring about 2 ha.
Emperor Maurice
(r. 582 - 602)
Roman troops pulled out
of the fort in 600AD.
There is also a secret underground fountain which flows under the walls of the town to a water spring situated outside. 
The civilian settlement evolved on the site of a Roman garrison at the end of the 2nd century, or the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., while the citadel was built by Constantine the Great (324-337); a stone bridge connecting the citadel with Palatiolon (ancient Oescus), on the other side of the Danube, was constructed simultaneously. 
The coins found at Sucidava site show an uninterrupted series from Aurelian (270-275) to Theodosios II (408-450). In the mid-5th century the Sucidava site suffered from attacks by the Huns, but was again restored, probably under Emperor Justin I or by Emperor Justinian l (527-565). 
On the basis of the numismatic profile, the Byzantine garrison seems to have departed from Sucidava around A.D. 600.
Near the fort there are remains of the 2400 m long bridge, which was built over the Danube in the period of the Emperor Constantine and inaugurated in 328 AD.

Foundation of the church, the first Christian church north of the Danube.

Entrance to the fort's well.

A well in the fort. From a tourist:
"The clay pot is supposedly original. The guide was happy to offer us a drink."

Sucidava, Roman fortress on the Danube

The Roman Limes System
The Latin word Limes was initially used by the ancient Romans to indicate the limit between two areas, for example - the limit between two pastures. Even so, several ancient authors used this word, referring to the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Historians of today use this term in a wider sense, to describe the defense system, diplomatic and military issues, but also economic, religious and other issues involved.
The Roman Empire Limes has known its greatest expansion in the A.D. 2-nd century, having a length of over 5000 km. It was reaching from the Atlantic shores of Scotland, cutting across Europe, touching the Black Sea and continuing on to the Red Sea, travelling through North Africa to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
The frontiers were a symbol of the power, ambition and culture of the Roman Empire, promoting the Roman way of life, all across the Empire.
Today, the signs of the Limes are to be found in the built walls, ditches, earthen ramparts, castra, fortresses, signal towers and civilian settlements.
The limes physical structure differs along its path, from the walls, earthen ramparts, palisades, to the rivers, desert, and mountains. And so, its purpose also differs, across time, the limes was a control area and point of passing the information, commerce area and migration, as well as an area with a defensive role.
See more:

(Danubian Limes)      (danubelimesbrand)      (panacomp.net)      (sucidava)

(Sucidava)      (superlative-fortress)