Warfare- The Romans

Throughout the history of Ancient Rome, the army was one of the most important parts taken seriously. Rome’s conquest depended on their large and effective pushing their territory to the farthest reaches of the world. The Roman army had changed over time in their history beginning as regular citizens fighting as soldiers but not highly trained. Later on, Rome’s army evolved to professional soldiers forming legions, which were all in all 28 units. The Roman army was made of not just legionnaires but different military units recruited from Rome or the provinces. The different types of soldiers included legionnaires, auxiliaries, and some from the early parts of Roman history. The Roman army was very obvious to recognize as they had uniform armor and colors, as well as the same standards they bring to battle.

The Roman army standard
The Roman army standard
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Roman legions in battle

Rome all began in 753 BC as a small city state in Italy, but overtime the army developed in Rome’s campaigns around Italy to grow their territory as a way to defend themselves from their enemies found around Italy, which included the Sabines, Volscians, Lucanians, Etruscans, and Aequians, which were from all over Italy. First of all, Rome had an army made up citizens and mostly landowners but not highly trained, armored, or equipped. When Rome began fighting wars with foreigners like the Carthaginians and Greeks, the army improved with more units and armor too. Rome’s professional army called the legions was started by Roman general Gaius Marius at the end of the 2nd century BC. The legions began to conquer far away lands like Gaul, Syria, Germany, and Britain at the time of Julius Caesar at the 1st century BC and when the empire began with Augustus, the legions were assigned all over at the empire guarding the frontiers, most were placed at the empire’s borders. The army of Rome continued to stay for the next centuries of the empire.

Roman weapons part 1
Roman weapons part 1
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Roman weapons part 2

First of all to begin with is the weapons the Romans used. In battle, the Romans relied more on using swords for melee combat but more importantly shields as they fought more defensively and organized. At the early days of Rome the army was not too organized, but instead fought loosely and in one formation carrying only swords and sometimes javelins and spears. When the legions were created, these new units fought in a more organized way with their javelins, swords, and shields. The old units, the auxiliaries were still used then as archers, spear men, or horsemen to support the legions. The weapons shown above are mostly the swords, which was standard weapon for all types of Roman soldiers, these Roman swords were called Gladius, a short straight-bladed sword with a rounded edge, it has either a flat or curved hilt. Most Roman soldiers carried a dagger along with them as a secondary weapon, called Pugio, shown above having a short and wide or narrow blade. Shown above here too include the Roman javelins, the earlier ones were shorter and more similar to those the Greeks and everyone else used, though the later javelins were only used by the Romans, it was longer and thinner with a sharp narrow edge which cracks when it hits the ground, it was called Pilum. Another type of Roman weapon shown here is the spear, called Hasta, which was mainly used by auxiliary troops, it was longer and wider than a javelin. The additional Roman weapons shown here include the bow and arrows used by the archers and the sling. And of course the shields, almost all Roman troops used them, some were large and wide, the rest were round a small, and all had a color code between red, green, and blue. The Romans too carried standards or flags with the Roman symbol, SPQR and the eagle in battle which symbolize the legion, if it were taken by the enemy in battle, the legion would break apart and flee.

early Roman units- triarii and auxilia
Early Roman units- triarii and auxilia

Above here in this panel is an early form of a Roman soldier (left) from the early days of the Republic and a Roman auxiliary (right), the supporting Roman army unit. The Roman army unit on the right, is called triarii or hastati, which were Rome’s earliest units, part of the citizen army. These early units were not really trained or armored but instead had a light bronze helmet with a 2-stranded feather sticking out; they did not wear much armor but a metal chest pad over their red tunic, a pair of gauntlets and greaves. For weapons, these early units carried the hasta spear or javelins, a small oval shield colored red or blue, and the gladius sword. On the right is an auxilia or auxiliary unit, this auxiliary unit was one of those not recruited from Rome but from the provinces, this one shown here is an auxilia infantry. This auxiliary unit has a green color-coded tunic, a bronze helmwt with feathers sticking out, a gladius sword, a basic Roman javelin called pilum, and a smaller legionnaire’s shield as these units were not fighting full combat but only as infantry support. The auxiliaries were more armored with a chain-mail cuirass almost looking like the Carthaginian soldiers, these units were also created later on when Rome fought wars with Greece and Carthage, they were more trained and skilled, though came earlier than the legionnaires. When the legions were invented, the auxiliaries were still used and part of the legions supporting the main units of soldier, called cohorts, and served as back-up troops.

Roman archer auxilia and velites unit
Roman archer auxilia and velites unit

Above here are 2 other Roman army units, an auxiliary archer (left) and a skirmisher (right), both did not fight in close-combat battle but fought in range combat. The Roman archer on the right served as another form of auxiliary units with the bow as its basic weapon and a set of arrows and also carries a gladius sword in case the enemy comes close. The Roman archers wear a heavier bronze helmet for headgear and a long chain-mail suit or cuirass with a tunic under; the units however were not basically Romans but outsiders recruited in the Roman legions. On the left is a Roman skirmisher called velites, these units however were used in the early part of Roman history, and were not often used later on. These velites, were more of skirmishers holding a small round shield for defense and in battle threw sets of javelins, and used a dagger for defense. The velites fought more lightly and were mostly disguised with a wolf, bear, or jaguar headpiece; they were not really armored but instead had a metal chest pad over the tunic.The velites however were never really used unless in skirmishes.

Roman cavalry auxilia
Roman cavalry auxilia

Another part of the auxiliaries was the Roman cavalry. The Roman legionnaires were not made to be cavalrymen though the different units from different provinces especially those from Gaul or Germany were used as cavalrymen to fight supporting the Roman legions. The Roman cavalry such as the one shown above wears a different type of helmet, a heavy iron helmet, called the Gallic helmet, the chain-mail cuirass suit, a tunic (colored green shown here) with different color codes and a cape matching the tunic’s color. The cavalrymen use a spear (hasta) as their main weapon used for lancing, also a small hexagonal shield, a a sword for secondary weapon. The Roman cavalrymen were mostly used when it came to flanking and charging at the enemy but also to protect the main forces.

Roman legionnaires; regular cohort and praetorian cohort
Roman legionnaires; regular cohort and praetorian cohort

Shown above here is Rome’s special forces, the legionnaires, the main units in the legion, called cohorts. These were the special forces of the Roman army and the main units of a legion. These units made up the cohorts in the legion, which were broken down into 6 centuries, each century has 80 soldiers with a commander; this new invention and formation in the Roman army was invented later on by General Gaius Marius. The one on the left is a basic Roman legionnaire, a soldier part of the centuries and cohorts, in a uniform outfit together with the rest of the soldiers, which was the basic look for the Roman special forces. This legionnaire on the left has the standard iron plated armor made of large iron plates linked with leather strands, a belt and a leg protection which also makes a noise in battle, a red tunic under, and an cape which is optional, also shown with the standard advanced Roman helmet, a later invention, this was the Gallic helmet worn by most Roman troops. The soldier on the left carries the standard legionnaire’s weapons, the Gladius sword, the large rectangular shield called Scutum, a dagger sheathed for defense, and the javelin used as its first weapon to throw at the enemy. Each unit in a century uses the javelin first throwing it at the enemy, then afterwards it is once used and cannot be used anymore so the sword is its main weapon with the shield forming the shield wall formation called Testudo to charge at the enemy. the one on the right shows a different type of legionnaire, also part of the cohorts but a more elite force. These units were the Praetorian infantrymen, they served as bodyguards supporting the general’s units in battle; they were not heavily armed but had great strength compared to other army units. The praetorian legionnaire units had the same iron plated armor and a tunic under, the one here has a blue tunic; although they had a different helmet, this was only rare to these unit which was fully Roman based, having a short back and a round shape, and a crest above, and of course a cape at the back, which is shown here as blue. These units used the same weapons except for the javelin, instead just the gladius, though this one here has the rounded hilt gladius and the same scutum shield but with rounded edges and a dagger sheathed. The praetorian infantrymen however were not mainly used in full combat but as elite defense troops.

Roman standard bearer and Centurion
Roman standard bearer and Centurion

The legions had additional units too, though these units were rare as they had only one in each group. Each century had one centurion, an officer and the century’s commander and a standard bearer, assigned to carrying the Roman war flag, also in a century was the horn blower, though has the exact same look as the standard bearer, except holding the battle horn instead of the flag.The standard bearer (left) has a different look from the rest of the army, as it is not basically Roman but from other provinces, seen wearing animal pelts covering the helmet (either a wolf, bear, or leopard, depending from which part of the empire). The standard bearer has a distinct armor from the rest, instead of being chain mail or iron plated armor, it uses gold scale armor; as for weapons, the standard bearer does not carry much but a common Gladius sword, a dagger, and of course the war flag or standard. On the right is a centurion, the group’s commander seen wearing a different set of armor too; the centurion wears a chain mail outfit with leather strands for protection int he arms and legs. A centurion has the same Gallic helmet (called Galea) though instead of the the crest facing forward, it is sidewards signifying its office in the army; for weapons, it does not hold much but  the same sword, though a heavier and decorated one, together with a dagger but barely holds a sheild or a standard unless needed to; it also wears a tunic underneath and a cape over the armor. The centurions were one of the most important units in the army making them have many requirements which is that they have to be Roman, above 30, experienced in military skills, served in the army for years, and has to have connections with the generals. In fact there are actually notable centurions from the Roman army such as Lucius Vorenus, Titus Pullo, Cassius Chaerea, and St. Longinus, each were from different time sin Rome’s history.

sample Roman Praetoorian guard
Sample Roman Praetorian guard

One last unit in the Roman army, which has not been mentioned yet but definitely should is the Praetorian Guard. These units were one of the rarest but most powerful, their role was to protect Rome and were the only forces allowed in Rome and the major cities. The praetorian guards were established only when the empire began under Augustus Caesar and began to serve as the imperial guards though the emperors had their own personal foreign bodyguards from Germany or Spain. The praetorian guards became powerful and part of Rome’s politics at the time of emperor Tiberius from the ambitions of the praetorian captain Sejanus. The Praetorian guards played a significant role in Rome’s history when assassinating emperor Caligula and proclaiming Claudius emperor in 41AD. Later on the guards played a few important roles in proclaiming Domitian and Pertinax emperor though they also killed them. The guards were then reduced overtime and finally disbanded by emperor Constantine the Great in 312AD. These units had a signature body armor either made of leather or metal with a signature purple as the color for their cape and dark blue for their tunic, they had a distinct helmet only worn by the praetorians with a thick purple crest. For weapons, they carried the same sword, a dagger, and a hexagonal shield and sometimes a spear. The praetorian guards were best known for protecting Rome and the emperor though they were the most powerful and power-hungry and mostly involved in the plots to overthrow the emperors and make a new one.

Roman siege weapons
Roman siege weapons

Another thing about the Romans in warfare was siege craft, they were one of the best at it in history. The Romans came up with all sorts of siege weapons for their conquests especially when it came to besieging walls and cities. One of the siege weapons they invented was the balista, though it was not clearly their but the Greeks first made it; it was made to blow out heavy bolts or incendiary arrows to wipe out a number of enemies. The Roman developed siege weapon was the scorpion, an elevated balista which was narrower; it was faster and more effective shooting out a number of arrows at the same time. Another of their siege weapons was the battering ram, though others may have used it earlier, though the Romans made it movable and faster to break through gates. The Romans too highly used the onager, another siege weapon as a sort of catapult, though smaller but catapults either rocks, flaming hay stacks, or molten rocks to destroy walls. One of their greatest siege weapons was the siege tower, which was designed to carry soldiers to attack the walls of a fortified place by climbing up the series of steps it has. The Romans were famous for using their siege weapons when besieging forts and cities, one of the most known ones was the Siege of Masada where the Roman army attacked the Jewish fortress and captured it with their skill in siege craft and the engineering behind it.

th-3When the Romans expanded their territories to as far north as Britain, to Egypt in the south, to the Atlantic in the west, and to Mesopotamia in the east, they have succeeded and conquered with their military strength. At the same time as having their powerful army, the Romans had an effective navy too protecting the seas as the army protected the land. Behind Rome’s conquests and victories were the brilliance and braveness of the great Roman generals like Fabius Maximus, Marcellus, Scipio Africanus, Pompey Magnus, Julius Caesar, Marcus Agrippa, Germanicus, Domitius Corbulo, and Flavius Aetius. These generals had expanded Rome’s lands and also defended Rome and helped save it to be at its greatest in history. Part of the Roman warfare world was engineering, which is what made their troops, weapons, and armor effective. Throughout its history, Rome continued to have its peace kept within the empire with the army protecting it from any threat to come…. that’s all for now, thank you for reading about the fascinating Roman world!!

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Byzantine naval warfare, siege weapons, battle tactics

Posted by Powee Celdran 

The Greeks began to fling their fire all around; and the Rusii seeing the flames threw themselves in haste from their ships, preferring to be drowned in the water rather than burned alive in the fire.” -Liutprand of Cremona on Greek Fire, 941

As I have written a long post on Byzantine military units, this time I’m again on Byzantium though on their navy an battle tactics this time. Just as they had an interesting, powerful, and multi-cultural army, their navy was quite fascinating too and their siege weapons even more. The Byzantines though had ordinary warships, mostly small in size as they did travel that far, though they had extra-ordinary siege weapons compared to the rest of Medieval Europe. Part of their extremely powerful and unimaginable siege weapons was the naval cannon, or Greek Fire which blew out liquid fire, they also had more powerful siege weapons to think of.

2000px-Byzantine_imperial_flag,_14th_century.svg

The Byzantine Empire mostly had everything based on what their predecessors, the Romans had and made different versions of them including the army, the navy, and architecture. Just as the Romans did, the Eastern Romans or the Byzantines who followed them after the fall of the western empire took some of Rome’s influences and great works they’ve done in the past. Part of the Roman world which Byzantium took was the navy, the Byzantines made a different versions of the Roman navy building different types of ships. The Byzantine ships were however not large but small and powerful. The Byzantines too need to have a strong navy as their empire which lasted for more than 1000 years controlled the seas. The Byzantine navy controlled the many different seas such as the Mediterranean, Aegean, Bosporus, Adriatic, Ionian, and Black seas and the navy was most needed in protecting the trade routes at sea by making sure the enemy ships were kept away to make travel and trade by sea safe. For the many years of Byzantium’s wars and military campaigns, the navy was overall needed to transport armies and fight the fleets of the many different enemies of theirs, which included the Sassanid Persians, the Germanic tribes, pirates, Slavs or Bulgars, Muslims, Russians, Mongols, Venetians, Crusaders, and Ottomans. For so many years, the Byzantine Empire had a successful navy keeping the empire strong.

 

mosaic of Byzantine ship
mosaic of Byzantine ship
Dromon warship
Dromon warship
sample Byzantine warship
Sample Byzantine warship
ships using Greek fire
Ships using Greek fire

 

There were actually only a few types of Byzantine war ships though most of them were not large in size but effective. Some of the Byzantine ships included an evolved version of the Roman trireme, the basic warship boarded with archers and spearmen ready to attack the enemy ship, it also had an ability to ram the enemy ship or let soldiers board it. Most of the Byzantine warships were however small with 2 or 3 sails, these were also used as trading ships too. The common but most effective Byzantine warship was the Dromon, a 2 or 3 sailed galley powered by oars and a pointed edge. Its main ability was launching a powerful siege weapon, Greek Fire which was fire blown out from the ships that scared the enemy ships. Throughout the naval history of Byzantium, Greek fire was the effective weapon that burned down many enemy ships and scared enemy soldiers. Byzantine ships however did not carry much siege equipment, though some carried scorpion though most carried soldiers firing missiles or the ship itself was the weapon.

my sketch of Byzantine siege weapons
Byzantine siege weapons
soldiers operating Greek fire
Soldiers operate Greek Fire
Greek fire blowing out fire
Greek fire in action (AC Revelations)
Greek fire grenade
Greek fire grenade

 

At both land and naval battles, the Byzantines used quite a set of siege weapons. Their siege weapons included some Roman based siege weapons and some advanced Medieval siege weapons. Part of Byzantine siege weapons that were Roman based were was the scorpion, a smaller version of a ballista firing out a series of bolts either with flames or without. The scorpion the Byzantines used was the same as the Roman mounted crossbow, it was used on both land or on ships as its bolts could damage or burn enemy ships. Other Byzantine siege weapons included the same Medieval siege equipment for sieging castle walls such as the trebuchet or mangorel, a tall and heavy-supported catapult throwing large rocks or flamed hay balls to damage or burn walls. Other of their siege weapons than catapults were battering rams and siege towers which were useful to make soldiers invade the walls. The most effective and popular Byzantine siege weapon was Greek fire, a cannon used both on land and sea blowing out flames to quickly bun enemy ships and armies. The Greek fire was developed as early as 672, by the Byzantines Greeks giving it its name, it was first used in defending Constantinople from the Arab invasions, true enough it was successful in defending them. The Greek fire was mostly used for warships, its edge had a spout where the cannon was located blowing out liquid fire, it was highly effective in burning several ships. Its main weapon was the liquid fire most possibly consisting of naphtha and quicklime, however its formula is a mystery only kept to the Byzantines- and died with them with the fall of the empire in 1453- but it was extremely powerful. The Greek fire used different grenades and caltrops powering them, overall it was an incendiary weapon. The ingredients for the liquid flame of this flame thrower include combinations of pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, calcium phosphide, sulfur, and niter. This flamethrower was either a large cannon mounted on a warship or even portable being carried when sieging towers, it took 2or 3 soldiers to operate this weapon. This weapon was is also highly popular for its effectiveness in naval battles, it is mentioned in movies, series, literature and games like Assassin’s Creed Revelations (2011). The Byzantines overall used powerful siege weapons not for invading other cities although they did and were highly effective when conquering other lands to the north and east, though they used these weapons more in the defence of their empire.

Byzantine units at the middle of battle
Byzantine units at the middle of battle
Byzantine cavalry charge
Byzantine Cataphract cavalry charge
Byzantine army units sieging
Byzantine siegecraft (Madrid Skylitzes)

Aside from siegecraft, army units were important in controlling the siege craft and were the main part of the battle. The Byzantine empire had several different military units and each ad a different function. For example, Cataphract cavalry units formed a wedge formation performing a shock charge, first by shooting arrows from riding then charging straight at the enemy. The cataphracts however were more for land battle and not for siege or defence. The lighter units such as the archers and foot soldiers handled the defence, the archers were more important units of defence and sieging walls by firing either regular and incendiary arrows at the enemy above or below or with great effect lighting the oil or hay to burn down the enemy. The foot soldiers on the other hand were more of use operating siege weapons like the Greek fire, scorpion, trebuchet, and battering ram and were the first line of defence when sieging or being sieged. The Varangian guard units were mostly used when at full battle mode especially when the battle becomes intense, these units fought with their superior strength and advanced battle tactics.

early Byzantine army units
Early Byzantine army units
Byzantine and Varangian forces
Byzantine and Varangian forces
fall of Constantinople, 1453
Fall of Constantinople, 1453

 

Throughout Byzantium’s history, from its beginning as the Eastern Roman empire after dividing from Rome in the 4th century until its fall in 1453, its military has evolved. At the beginning days, the Byzantine army was very much similar to the Roman army, from the time of Emperor Constantine the Great until Justinian I when the western empire fell and the east rose as the Byzantine empire. In Emperor Justinian’s time, the army evolved with more units but more on foot soldiers, the army expanded too as Justinian fought wars conquering lands far beyond which were once part of the Roman empire, which he succeeded retaking from Barbarian Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths. The next series of wars the Byzantines fought with were with the Sassanid Persians then the Islamic Arabs, here they invented new siege weapons such as Greek fire to defend their cities from invasions. At the same time they defended their cities from Muslim invasions, the Byzantines expand their territories north by fighting the Slavs and the Russians (The Rus‘), afterwards allying themselves an using their warriors as Byzantine forces, which were the Varangians. The Byzantines too invented the Cataphract cavalry when fighting the Turks at the east but at times they lost greatly but when fighting land and naval battles wight the Russians, they had won. At the latter part of their empire’s history, they fought defending their empire from the Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, Venetians, then finally the Ottoman Turks. From so much battles, the Byzantine army began to decline beginning the 1200’s, so did their empire’s size. It all came to an end at the final battle in 1453 where they were defeated by the Ottomans besieging Constantinople itself. Here the Ottomans developed highly-powered cannons that the Byzantines with their’s capital’s thousand year old walls had no chance to stand against. On May 29, 1453, the Ottomans took over Constantinople and the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI was killed and the rest of the city fled and the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II took over making Constantinople the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The Byzantine Empire then ended as the Ottoman Empire began to grow in place of them while the Renaissance began too.

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Well, this was a lot more again about Byzantium, anyway this is it, hope this was interesting. After all, Byzantium has many different parts of it history, warfare, art, architecture, and civilisation unexplored.. watch out for more posts!

Military figures sketches- Byzantium

Byzantine war flag
Byzantine war flag

Posted by Powee Celdran 

For another time, I am back blogging about the amazing world of Byzantium, this time it would be plainly focusing on Byzantium’s interesting and very detailed military. he military was one of the major and most important parts in the history and civilisation of Byzantium. The Byzantine Empire, which lasted for about 1000 years dominating the eastern part of the world in the Middle-ages had a very detailed army, somewhat powerful but not overall powerful. The Byzantine army is best known for being diverse, having many different types of units such as cavalry, infantry, skirmishers, and hired mercenaries, some were not even from the empire itself. The Byzantine army then took design seriously but also fought effectively. Here it will show how different types of Byzantine military units look like, their armour, weapon sets, and colours shown in my sketches of different Byzantine soldiers.

my sketch of Byzantine army captain
My sketch of Byzantine army captain
sample Byzantine captain
Sample Byzantine captain

Above here shows my sketch of a Byzantine army captain, a set of weapons, and the standard of Byzantium’s military. First of all (shown in the first picture far above) is Byzantium’s war standard, a red flag with a yellow cross, and the eagle symbol at the centre together with 4 seals in each square, the shields used this same symbol too. In this panel right above, it shows the Byzantine war flag an its imperial symbol, the 2-hear eagle; it also shows a simplified set of Byzantine weapons including a mace, sword, bow and arrows, round shield, and a war flag. The army captain to the left has a distinct look, looking large and a lot stronger with a full lamellar armour or metal padded armour, though it has a distinct look for leading the different army units of Byzantium in battle. This army captain has a large protective metal helmet with a plume, a green cape, gold metal shoulder pads, metal bracers and greaves, and an ornate red silk outfit under the armour; for weapons, the captain holds a large one-handed xiphos sword. This Byzantine captain somewhat is based on an Elven army unit from LOTR and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien as the Elven races may resemble the Byzantines (in my opinion).

 

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My sketch of a Byzantine rifleman and infantry soldier

In this panel shown above are two types of different Byzantine army units, a rifleman (left) and a foot-soldier (right) together with the Byzantine war standard and the eagle symbol. On the left shows a Byzantine rifleman or arquebusier, this was however a unique type of Byzantine army unit which came a little later in Byzantium’s history, towards the end of the empire, during the Palaiologos dynasty when gunpowder from China was introduced to Byzantium making a new type of weapons for the arm, the gunmen equipped with rifles as their weapons. The rifleman does not carry any other weapon but the advanced weapon of a rifle powered with Chinese gunpowder, and on the other hand a Byzantine dagger for melee combat. The rifleman shows more of a Chinese appearance mainly because of the gunpowder it uses which comes from China as well as the silk it wears making it have an oriental pattern. The rifleman however is not and does not have to be fully armoured but instead wears a silk robe with a few pads for protection and a simple round helmet and a pack of gunpowder and bullets; these units are placed above buildings to shoot from above. On the right is a sketch of a Byzantine foot soldier, a common type of infantry soldier in the empire throughout the whole history of Byzantium, these units were called skoutatoi. This type of solider is most likely ordinary in battle only equipped with a regular sword and round-shield, it simply serves as a common soldier together with thousands of others. This foot soldier wears simply a round cone helmet with chain-mail protecting the face and neck but not covering the arms an body; protecting the body is a lamellar armour of metal plates with a sash and a sheathe, under is a tunic, also has a pair of greaves and bracers. This foot soldier is an evolved version of a Classical Roman infantry soldier. Both these soldiers shown above (the rifleman and infantry soldier) are both local Greek army men and not hired but recruited from within the empire making them not as advanced as Byzantium’s special forces but serving as auxiliary units. The rifleman however may not be accurate as it is based on the Byzantine rifleman from Assassin’s Creed Revelations (2011).

Byzantine crossbow soldier
Byzantine crossbow soldier

Above here, this single unit is a sketch of a Byzantine crossbow archer. This type of Byzantine soldier is not part of the special forces or elite army but part of the common infantry and under archers, as it is not a powerful in battle, these units are usually Greeks. This crossbow man is a later unit in the Byzantine military only appeared at the time of the Palaiologos dynasty before the fall of Byzantium. This is a more advanced version of a Byzantine army unit as it holds a more effective archery weapon, usually placed above buildings or on walls during sieges for short-distance shots on enemies. This crossbowman carries its basic weapon, the effective short-ranged crossbow and a short-sword for melee combat; the helmet may look more different designed for aiming with a wide brim. This soldier’s armour is a little more different, instead of metal cuirass it has a padded vest called epilorikon, and leather strips protecting the arms and thighs together with a cape covering. This soldier unit was sort of based on a type of Byzantine army unit from Assassin’s Creed Revelations.

 

Cataphract cavalry, elite forces
Cataphract cavalry, elite forces
Byzantine cataphract units, standard bearer and cavalryman
Byzantine cataphract units, standard bearer and cavalryman

Shown above here are 2 types of Byzantium’s elite forces, the Cataphracts (my sketch above), called Cataphractaii or Kataphraktoi in Greek. On the left is a different type of cataphract, a standard bearer holding the Byzantine war banner in battle; this unit has a round leather helmet and a cape with fur; for armour it has chain-mail underneath and lamellar over it, also additional leather strips. The standard bearer is shown fully covered up in winter battle outfit, although it carries basic weapons, a Byzantine one-handed sword and a cataphract’s pointed long shield. On the right is a cataphract cavalryman shown with its horse, both the horse and the soldier fully armoured.  The Byzantine cavalry cataphract such as this is in full armour from head to feet, it has a round pointed helmet with a plume sticking out and chain-mail flowing from head to body protecting the face and neck. The cataphract cavalryman has a full set of armour with chain-mail under and silver lamellar (plated) armour over it together with a cape, leather strips, a set of bracers and greaves. The cataphract cavalryman carries not just a single weapon but a number of them at the same time; it uses either a long kite-shaped shield called skouton or as shown here a large or small round shield; for melee weapons it carries a one-handed longsword for close-combat or a mace, it also holds a spear for lancing when riding; sometimes these horsemen carry bows as the first weapon they use; the horse as well is armoured. The cataphracts were basically fully armoured soldiers, this is what it means in Greek. The cataphracts were invented in the 10th century during the time of Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II, these units were inspired by eastern cavalrymen from the Sassanid and Parthian Persian empires carrying a set of weapons, which was very effective, these cavalrymen were mostly Greeks from Greece and Turkey, the major parts of the empire. The cataphracts were actually successful in the Byzantine army having horse archery and wedge-formation in battle, the performed tactics including missile throwing while spinning in a circle and shock charge with the wedge formation; these units however were not much used in the later period of Byzantium.

 

Varangians at battle
Varangians at battle
Byzantine Varangian guards
Byzantine Varangian guards

Above here (my sketch) shows 2 types of Varangian Guards, however these units were much alike an do not have much difference. The Varangian guards were the Byzantine elite units mostly serving as the emperor’s bodyguards at battle. These units were basically not from the empire and not Greeks but began as Viking, Germanic, or Rus’ (Russians) mercenaries originating as the imperial bodyguards during the reign of emperor Basil II after his conquests of Rus’, afterwards those warriors turned to serve Byzantium. For the next couple of centuries, these units became one of Byzantium’s most important army units and elite forces just as the cataphracts were. The cataphracts however were more effective as cavalrymen while the Varangians were more effective infantrymen and extremely skilled in battle and loyal soldiers. The Varangians were more trusted as they were not Byzantines but Norsemen or Russians making them brave and strong as well, there were also highly equipped and armoured. The Varangians had a double set of armour including a full helmet but not covering the eyes or mouth but having chain-mail protecting the face and neck going down to the body. They had either a wide round helmet with cheek guards or a 2 sharp points and scaled at the back, which sort of makes it look like a Samurai helmet, their helmets had a long plume sticking out. For armour, these units had chain-mail underneath sometimes or just their silk outfit but they always had their lamellar armour, their main protection over, their armour included leather strips, greaves, bracers, and a short or long cape either coloured red or green. The Varangian guards carried quite a lot of weapons including a one-handed longsword and a mace or war-axe carried at the same time as well as a large round shield, which was more of Viking use than Byzantine, these units however were not much of missile soldiers but heavy infantrymen for melee combat. The Varangian guards to simply put it were more more influenced by Viking war tactics than Byzantines, though they were in great use for their discipline and bravery in battle for over 500 years of the Byzantine Empire.

 

Byzantine units- Almogavar and archer
Byzantine units- Almogavar and Archer

Above here is another my Byzantium army sketches, this one shows two units far different from each other an Almogavar mercenary and an archer called Toxotai or PsiloiThe Almogavars although were not Byzantines within Greek territory themselves, neither from Turkey or nearby but were Catalans and Aragonese from the Kingdom of Aragon in Spain. The Almogavars have a distinct look from all Byzantine soldiers being bigger in size and heavily armoured however the real Almogavars were not as big in size and heavily armoured but were fully armoured in chain-mail and a round helmet carrying a shield with the red and yellow colours of Aragon. The Almogavar unit shown in my sketch is actually based on a Dwarven army unit from LOTR and the Hobbit, wearing a set of padded square-linked armour, chain-mail, a heavy battle-axe, a dagger sheathed, a tunic under, and covered in fur; though the exact Spanish Almogavars did not have this Dwarven look. On the right is a Byzantine archer unit, these were actually soldiers from Byzantine Greek territory themselves, coming from the regions of Asia Minor (Turkey). The archer shown here is a lot similar to how the exact Byzantine archers looked like, with padded lamellar armour, the standard round helmet, a tunic under, but with the bow as their main weapon. The archers were the standard infantry units of Byzantium, using archery as their skill though held a sword as their secondary weapon. The archers were not overall powerful forces but were important in the army especially as they fire arrows at the enemy having also to incendiary skill launching flame arrows, in battle, they were protected by the Cataphract cavalry, while the cataphracts shock charge, the archers are protected in firing arrows.

Byzantine weapon set part1
Byzantine weapon set part1
Byzantine weapon set part2
Byzantine weapon set part2

 

The Byzantine army carried a range of weapons too; their standard weapons and battle equipment were swords, spears, shields, war-axes, daggers, clubs or maces, bow and arrows, crossbows, and javelins. Shown above in my sketches are different types of basic Byzantine weapons. There were two basic types of swords most military units used called Paramerion, a thin-long curved sword and a Spathion, a long wide straight blade; the paramerion was a later version of a Byzantine bale inspired by eastern Scimitar swords while the spathion was a classic Byzantine swords inspire by the Roman longsword, Spatha, whig was however very heavy. For shields, the Byzantines used many different types, mostly inspired by Roman round and square shields with the same Roman colours red or blue however the Byzantines coloured their shields differently with red, green purple, black, or white having new Byzantine symbols this time such as the (PX) symbol, the Byzantine war flag symbol, or simply 2 coloured stripes; a common type of Byzantine shield mostly used by the cataphracts and light infantry was the skouton, or the long oval kite-shaped shield made with wood and iron. Other basic weapons included a spear, called Kontarion, which was 2-3m long, the main weapon for he cataphract cavalry use for thrusting when doing shock charge. The rest of Byzantine weapons included a shot war-axe as a secondary melee weapon and a mace or club together with a dagger. war-axes, maces, and daggers were used by most soldiers such as archers, cataphracts, and light infantry as a secondary weapon for the sword if the sword may be too heavy or too slow to pull out, it would be quicker to defend themselves with a shorter and denser weapon. Also shown above here are other weapons such as bows used by archers when firing at a long range and by cataphracts as one of their weapons; the Byzantines too used crossbows as an alternative for bows when at a short range, in the later period of the empire they began to use gunpowder weapons including rifles. Other battle equipment shown here is the Byzantine war standard with the (PX) symbol replacing the Roman (SPQR) and having the classic Byzantine yellow 2-headed eagle.

 

types of Byzantine shields
Types of Byzantine shields
sample Byzantine spatha
Sample Byzantine Spatha
sample full lamellar armour
Sample full lamellar armour
full Byzantine Varangian armour
Full Byzantine Varangian armour

In terms of armour, the lamellar plated armour was what was unique to Byzantium in the Middle-Ages as most of Medieval western European armies did not use this advance type of armour with decorations on them. The Byzantines used many different layers of armour, some were worn at the same time, though different units wore different types. The elite forces such as the Cataphracts and Varangians had 3 sets of armour including the Kavadion or tunic under the cuirass, Lorikion or chain-mail, and the paced lamellar vest called Klivanion, here the types of armour shown in the previous sketches are mentioned. In addition, some Byzantine soldiers wore the lamellar vest together right the chain-mail but some just wore either one of them. However there were more armour sets but used optionally such as the Epilorikon worn over the armoured vest or over a leather vest if the soldier did not use armour, and also the Kremasmata which was the leather strips used to protect the soldier’s legs and arms which were not really covered by armour, most soldiers usually used these leather strips. Another part of the armour required by all soldiers was the bracers and greaves to protect the arms an legs, either made of leather or metal. Of course the Byzantines had different colours over and under the armour, though this was not important in battle, just to show their empire’s colours. To make it short, Byzantine amor is an improved and more covering version of Roman armour, either heavy or light and is sort of a cross-over between Medieval European armour and Japanese Samurai or Asian armours but it it is its own.

sample Byzantine armour style with basic weapons
Sample Byzantine armour style with basic weapons

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To simply describe, Byzantium’s warfare is its own but inspired by different warfares of different cultures from other empires before and during their time. Part of Byzantine battle strategies including armour and types of weapons were inspired by Roman warfare from the Roman empire before it. Part of Byzantine warfare such as cataphract cavalry and archers were inspired by the warfare of eastern empires such as the Sassanid Persians, and some parts such as the Varangians were inspired by the northern people. As it is inspired by different cultures, this is what makes the warfare of Byzantium interesting, but in fact it made it its own. This is all for now, it may have been long but surely interesting, anyway up next, more on Byzantine warfare… watch out for more!

Warfare- Ancient Eastern Empires

Hello everyone, I’m back again with my historical warfare posts featuring my sketches of different of armies from history. This time, I’d go in detail with the warfare of the Eastern kingdoms and empires from ancient times, parallel to times of Greece and Rome. Surprisingly the eastern empires of the world, located in Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and the Middle-east had battle strategies, weapons, and armor a lot different from those in the west. The empires and kingdoms that will be covered would be the Persians, Parthians, Armenians, and Sassanids, each of them were very different from the common places in the west.

Persian Empire battle standard
Persian Empire battle standard
symbol of Persian empire
Symbol of Persian empire
full extent of the Achaemenid Persian empire
Full extent of the Achaemenid Persian empire

The first part of this post would focus mainly on the 1st Persian Empire, also known a the Achaemenid Empire, or simply the Persian Empire. The Achaemenids were the first Persians to build an empire stretching across the Middle-east in a short matter of time. The empire began under Cyrus II the Great, the first king of Persia, and in his reign (559-530BC) he conquered the lands outside of Persia (Iran) extending to Asia Minor and Armenia. Cyrus the Great simply began being ruler of the small Persian kingdom in Iran and conquered regions beyond it such as Medea, Judea, Phoenicia, Babylon, and Lydia in Asia Minor, the Persian empire’s capital was Ecbetana. He was most famous for conquering Babylon but failed to conquer the Bactrian and Scythian tribes. His successors were Cambyses II, Darius I, and Xerxes I, in their reigns they expanded the empire conquering Egypt, Thrace, and parts of India. When building their empire, they defeated powerful rulers including extremely wealthy Lydian king Croesus and the pharaoh of Egypt. At the beginning of the 5th century BC, the Persians fought a series of wars with the Greeks, the Greek-Persian wars, here the Persians managed to invade Greece for a while but were driven away by the armies of the Greek city states combined. The Achaemenid Persians were overall a powerful empire having an army large in size, but not strong in battle, and a large powerful fleet, and had lots of wealth. The Persians are famous for inventing the messaging system and road systems building highways around the empire extending across the deserts, plains, mountains, rivers, and seas. For the remaining years after defeat in the war with the Greeks, the Persians continued to rule their great empire. The Achaemenid Persian Empire came to their end when their last king, Darius III was defeated by Macedonian king Alexander the Great, from then the Persians and all their lands including Egypt were ruled by the Macedonian Greeks; after Alexander’s death, the succeeding Persian empire would be the Seleucid Empire, though they were more Greek than eastern.

Persian warriors carved on walls
Persian warriors carved on walls
Persian army at battle
Persian army at battle
Persian Immortals in phalanx formation
Persian Immortals in phalanx formation
my sketch of Persian warriors
My sketch of Persian warriors

The Persian army was made up of a variety of units of all sorts of skills. The Achaemenid Persian army was many in number but majority were weak and untrained for battle. Only a few of them, called the Immortals, the elite army units and the protectors of the king. The rest of their army were untrained citizens from all over the empire simply asked to fight for Persia as slaves and not soldiers. In battle, the Persians relied mostly on missile weapons than melee weapons, these missile weapons they used included bows and arrows or javelins. The citizen army were mostly peltasts or hillmen weakly trained and only skilled with using missile weapons and usually used one of each and holding a dagger on their side. The only elite force highly trained for battle were the Immortals and the Cataphracts who handled a set of weapons such as a bow, a sword or axe, javelins, and a shield. The Immortals were more of an infantry force, at battle using the phalanx formation and using both melee and missile combat. The Cataphracts were more of cavalry men skilled in archery and lancing when on horse. The Persian warriors however did not wear much of armor, the Immortals and the Cataphracts though wore only padded armor or scales rather than full armor as the Greeks did. The Persian cavalry was usually made up of horses, camels, charriots, and sometimes war elephants. The Persian army did not take the use of armor seriously but instead carried more weapons as wearing armor would be too heavy when marching in desert heat. The elite warriors usually wore a sheet of padded armor around the body but not covering the arms, under they wore tunics and on their head they had headscarves and under they had pants and boots. Most of their soldiers were not armored and simply wore tunics and headscarves, or phrygian caps. For shields, the Persians either used large square shields for phalanx when using spears, or round shields with a curve when firing javelins, their shields were usually made of wood, some were metal; for their weapons they used different types of curved swords called kopis, they also used javelins, bows and arrows with the incendiary effect to burn down enemy armies. In my sketch above, it shows 2 Persian elite warriors, on the left a cataphract, on the right an immortal; also shown here are Persian weapons a bow, a set of arrows with a Persian quiver which had a design with a curve to hold both the arrows and the bow, also here is a Persian curved sword and dagger. Most of all, they used missle weapons as they were more of skirmishers in battle.

the Parthian Empire symbol
Parthian Empire symbol
map of Parthian Empire
Map of the Parthian Empire

The first empire, the Achaemenids fell under the Greeks for a matter of time dissolving to the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid Empire (mentioned in the previous page) was more of Greek than eastern but had few parts of eastern culture. The Seleucid Empire stretched across the Middle-east from Mediterranean Syria and Turkey to eastern Iran, Parthia was one of the states of the Seleucid Empire. In the 2nd century BC, the Parthians formed their own faction and revolted against the Seleucids, later capturing their regions around Persia, the new empire was the Parthian or Arsacid Empire. A famous Parthian ruler was Mithridates I, he was responsible for building the empire and expanding it weakening the Seleucids after battles. The Seleucid Empire then fell to the Romans after battles, so did the Ptolemaic Egyptian empire, but the Parthians remained with most of the land in the east preventing the Romans to go through. After defeating the Seleucids, the Romans then tried to make their way to Parthia, though they lost at the Battle of Carrhae where Roman leader Crassus was defeated. Afterwards, for the next 2 centuries Rome and Parthia were always at war with each other, and there was no successful result, Rome never invaded them nor did they invade Rome, and at times they made peace. However, the neighboring kingdom to Parthia, Armenia was a weaker kingdom but allied with Parthia, however both Romans and Parthians fought for it. One of the significant fights between them was during the reign of Roman emperor Nero, which involved Roman general Corbulo to deal with the issue. At the end, Corbulo was able to capture Armenia from Parthia and claim it for Rome while Parthia stayed alone, but later on went through more conflicts with the Romans. Armenia then fell under Roman control for the longest time while Parthia was sometimes captured by Rome, however the Romans did not fully invade Parthia but took some of their territory. The Romans invaded until the Euphrates area while Parthia continued to keep their lands beyond it including Babylon and Persia; Parthia’s capital was still Ecbetana though the Seleucid’s earlier used Antioch as their capital, though the actual capital of Parthia was Ctesiphon in Iraq. The Parthian empire came to its close after their last war with Rome involving the last Parthian king Artabanus V and the Roman army, after the war, the Romans and the Parthians finally made a full peace after all. After the king’s death, the dynasty ended falling to the Sassanians, a new dynasty, they were to be the enemies of the Byzantines, the successor to Rome in the east.

Parthian cavalry at battle
Parthian cavalry at battle
Parthian war elephants
Parthian war elephants
A Parthian camel cataphract
A Parthian camel cataphract
my sketch of Parthian cataphract cavalry
My sketch of Parthian cataphract cavalry
other sketch of Parthian cavalryman
Other sketch of Parthian cavalryman

When it came to battle, the Parthian empire had a more organized and strategized army compared to the Persians. The Parthian army was mostly made up of cavalrymen, also called cataphracts,which were the most important part of their army. Their cavalry was made up of simple horsemen, then cataphracts which were more armored horsemen, also camel cavalry, war elephants, chariots, and an infantry. The infantry men were not as strong and carried limited choices of weapons, which were mostly missile weapons for skirmishing. Their infantry were mostly hillmen or skirmishers, though their cavalry was more advanced having different ways in battle from thrusting with spears, slashing with swords, throwing javelins, and shooting arrows while riding on horse. The Parthians used camels too as a way to be faster in riding, the soldiers on camels were mostly archers but also spearmen. The difference between the Parthian army compare to the earlier Persians was that they were more organized and had full armor, especially the horsemen, even horses and camels had armor. The Parthians used nearly the same weapons as the Persians though cavalrymen used a bow, sword, shield, and spear combined, this was much more effective and useful in battle. The Parthians too used large armored war elephants, which were also useful in creating bigger destruction on the enemy by ramming and archers shooting arrows from above. For armor, the Parthians used more of it, having a full set of body armor made of soft pads or scales, together with chain mail and a full helmet covering the face, though lined with scarves, and a cape. The infantry used simpler armor or just wore tunics, their military outfits had to be more fit for dessert combat. With their strong cavalry including archers and elephants, the Romans could definitely not beat them.

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Sassanid empire symbol
Sassanid empire symbol
full extent of Sassanid empire
Full extent of Sassanid empire

After the Achaemenids, Seleucids, and Parthians, the concluding dynasty of the Persian Empire was the Sassanids or Sassanians. After the Arsacid Parthian dynasty faded away in the 3rd century AD, the Sassanid dynasty took its place and changed the course of the empire, the new dynasty and empire began with Ardashir I, first Sassanian ruler. For the Sassanids, Ctesiphon remained as their capital, and they remained with the same Persian religion since the early days before the Persian empires began, Zoroastrianism. However, the Eastern Roman Empire turned to Christianity, and some of the Christians there settled in the Sassanid Empire following the Nestorian branch of Eastern Christianity, these Christians were a lot more different and traveled far to the east, probably even reaching China.The Sassanids were somewhat more different from the Parthians as they expanded their lands more to the north retaking Armenia and the east of Asia Minor, even capturing Syria and Egypt from the Eastern Romans. One of the most significant wars between the Romans and the Sassanids happened in the 4th century AD, when the eastern empire was still new, in fact in these wars, eastern emperor Julian was killed in battle with the Sassanids. One thing the Sassanids had was an army mostly made of cavalry just as the Persians did, they had the same elite cavalry unit called cataphracts, also had horse and camel archers, war elephants and chariots. The Sassanids had quite a lot of land around the deserts and traveling may have been easy in fact the Sassanids knew ways of getting to China by land; their empire spanned across the Middle-east going from Asia Minor and Armenia, the Caucasus mountains to the north, to the Arabian peninsula in the south, and as far as the Indian border in the Indus to the east. The Sassanid Empire came to an end when falling to the Arab conquests of the Muslims. Afterwards, the Sassanid Empire died and the Persian empires fully ended making the Islamic Empire be dominant in ruling the east and southern parts of the world. After that the world changed as the Persian world came to an end, though they were one of the most influential eastern empires.

Sassanid cavalry man
Sassanid cavalryman
Armenian hillmen
Armenian hillmen
my sketch, Sassanid cataphract (left) and Armenian hillman (right)
My sketch, Sassanid cataphract (left) and Armenian hillman (right)

Shown above is my sketch of a Sassanid cataphract warrior (left) and an Armenian hillman (right). The Sassanid army was usually made up of cavalry, mostly archers on horses or camels. These cavalry warriors had a round helmet with chain mail flowing down from their head to their body, a set of scarves on their head and carried together a bow, a spear, a sword, and a shield. On the left sketch shows a Sassanid cataphract infantry warrior, fully armored (drawing based on Easterling warrior from LOTR trilogy), this time for a difference it has a large square shield for infantry, holds a large curved scimitar sword, and at the back, a bow and a quiver with arrows. This warrior has padded armor in a hexagonal patter, an unusual helemet, and headscarves. The Sassanid cavalry army all looked the same, same padded armor, and chain-mail, and same set of weapons except only a small round shield for cavalry, though the Sassanid army was highly organized. On the right is an Armenia hillman, the Armenians though did not have a strong army with cataphracts or elephants, instead lightly armored hillmen or skirmishers without armor but tunics and a phrygian cap, holding a set of javelins, a wooden shield, and an axe, sword, or dagger for melee weapon, they also used slings though some hillmen used spears. These hillmen were not much organized but more of skilled skirmishers coming from the mountains of Armenia using mountain warfare. The Armenian skirmishers look a little similar to that of Scythian warriors, except not on horses.

To conclude the topic on Eastern warfare, to tell the difference, the eastern armies relied more on cavalry, archery, and skirmishing, though were very intricate in warfare. The eastern armies compared to the west came in more colors, having artistic designs, and different smart battle strategies of skirmishing or shock cavalry charge, they also had better styles of armor being more comfortable to travel through deserts and mountains. Their skills also matched the areas they were from, and in battle they came in large numbers, most of them however were unarmored but those who were well-trained and fully armored had unmatched skill in battle. Of course the eastern world had more gold and riches making the empires together with their army powerful as well. So this is it… hope you had learned, see you soon for more!