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Maurice's Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy (The Middle Ages Series)

4.7 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812217728
ISBN-10: 0812217721
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The most important Byzantine military text. . . . The standard translation."—Walter Kaegi, University of Chicago

Language Notes

Text: English, Greek (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Middle Ages Series
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (January 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812217721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812217728
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #466,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Florentius VINE VOICE on February 20, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully produced translation of the Strategikon, a military manual attributed to the eastern Roman emperor Maurice and thought to have been written sometime between A.D. 580 and 600. Packed full of the accumulated wisdom of a thousand years of Hellenistic and Roman experience in warfare, the Strategikon was meant to be a primer for the novice general--roughly the Western equivalent to Sun Tzu's "Art of War."

Simply put, the Strategicon is a gold mine of historical data on the Roman army of the late 6th century. It is of particular interest because this period marks a time when Roman power had made its last vain attempt to regain authority over the Western provinces of the Empire, and was now undergoing a period of contraction and collapse. The Strategikon describes an army whose core is no longer the heavy infantry of the early Roman Principate, but armored cavalry lancers and archers. It is a time when Greek was fast becoming the predominant language in Roman society as a whole, while vestiges of Latin remained in the jargon of the army. The legion of old was replaced by the meros, the centurion by the hekatontarch.

The Strategikon records many aspects of the Roman army life at this time, including: induction of new recruits, description of ranks and responsibilities, formation of units, drills, rules, punishments, instructions on marching through enemy territory, foraging for food, and the set-up of fortified camps. It is rich in advice for the prospective general when battling against the various enemies of the Empire, from the Persians, to the Slavs, to the Avars and Goths. Perhaps most interesting of all, it contains several detailed diagrams for the order of battle of a Late Roman/Early Byzantine army of various sizes and configurations.
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Format: Paperback
This is my first exposure to Maurice's handbook, so I cannot write a critical review of Mr. Dennis' work. Absent my ability to critique the translation, I give the book five stars as a combined score for Mr. Dennis and the long-departed Roman author.
Mr. Dennis' translation is very readable and smooth. The glossary was valuable while reading, and the index has been useful as I'm going over some specific topics again. The introductory material provided enough tutorial that I could enjoy the text without confusion. I appreciated the footnotes that give the Latin commands for directing troops. I find the "Bibliographical Notes" more useful than the typical stark list of references.
The only thing that I could really wish for are footnotes detailing variants in the surviving texts. While that would satisfy my curiosity, it could serve only as a distraction for those not interested in minutiae. One can't mark the book down for personal quirks. :-)
As for the text itself, it's a fascinating journey through the mind of a seasoned Roman general. Written to train the Empire's top military leaders, the well-organized handbook presents the material thoroughly without repetition. The plain, no-nonsense language keeps the material accessible to the non-erudite. The fact that it influenced warfare for hundreds of subsequent years comes as no surprise.
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Format: Paperback
Long attributed to the Byzantine Emperor Maurice, the "Strategikon" became the practical handbook for Byzantine army organization, covering everything from basic training to tactical planning against the armies of different nations and to basic strategy and diplomacy.
A young Byzantine man of good birth was expected to learn from childhood how to use the bow, ride a horse, then do both, while also training to fight on foot with sword, and then train to do it all in armor, and be capable of making long rides or long marches in full kit before being deemed fully qualified for service in the army.
Although heavily dependent upon mercenary forces, the Byzantines did not forget the lessons of the latter Western Roman Empire -- along with the mercenaries, the Byzantines established a hard core of well-trained native soldiers who acted as a unifying force around which the mercenaries gathered.
The "Strategikon" gives detailed marching orders for a variety of column types, orders of battle, the fighting styles of different enemies of the Byzantines, etc. It is this detail which helps the textual critics to analyze whether or not the Emperor Maurice himself wrote the book, or if it was written at his request, or under his dictation. Whoever the author, it is undoubted that he was a skilled tactician and an experienced veteran officer of high rank. In any case, "Strategikon" was for generations one of THE handbooks of military theory for the Byzantines, one which enabled them to maintain their independence (even in exile) for centuries after the book was written, and one which still has value for "Maurice's" comments on the need to train recruits thoroughly in ALL of the types of fighting which they might need to do.
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One does not normally expect to unearth a how-to manual from the ruins of a vanished empire, and yet here it is: Commanding Ancient Armies for Dummies!

Clearly written by a committee of some sort, this book pretty much cuts to the chase. Congratulations, you're a General, NOW what? Better get weapons and clothing for your guys... who's gonna do it? What's the quality stuff? Uh oh... better start training your men: what do they need to know? How are you going organize them? Who are you gonna put in charge of what? When are they ready? Maybe you can train them on the march? Oh wait, how do you manage a march? What do you need to bring? How are you gonna carry it? How do you set up camp? Don't water the horses upstream: they'll muddy your men's water. Uh oh... enemy territory: time to change the routine!

The book has all sorts of invaluable, practical tips that simply wouldn't occur to most people. Don't make all your companies the same size... you don't want the enemy estimating your force by simply counting flags! Speaking of flags, how do you keep everyone from getting confused during the battle? What cues are they likely to notice in all the confusion? Oh yes, and another thing... never just say "CHARGE": half your guys will go, the other half will hesitate. Speaking of which, put a backup line behind your fighting line to keep the cowards from turning back! Oh wait, what if you lose? Better prepare Plan B before you engage. Where will you put demoralized guys? Put the impressive, good-looking ones up front: they are what the enemy sees! There is so much to do, so much to know, and so many ways to invite disaster that it quickly becomes apparent why it took a lifetime to become a general and why so many strong, intelligent people failed the task.
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