- Series: Warfare and History
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (July 3, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 185728495X
- ISBN-13: 978-1857284959
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #524,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Warfare, State And Society In The Byzantine World 565-1204 (Warfare and History) 1st Edition
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"An impressive work. There is extensive treatment of logistics, some attention to personalities, and a good deal more besides, from pay to religious ceremonies. A very useful book." The NYMAS Newsletter ."
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As the title suggests, this is a study primarily focused on how warfare related to society in East Rome. I'm just going to give a brief summary of each chapter. The first chapter deals with attitudes to warfare in East Rome, and finally puts that debate to bed. It is excellent, and examines the religious issues surrounding warfare, especially in light of the traditional views and Basil of Caesarea, and how we cannot apply the concept of 'holy war' to them, but that the Byzantine attitudes really need their own category. The second chapter deals with geography, and this one is exceptional. Geography and logistics are a specialty of Dr. Haldon's, and it really shows here. It is loaded with great maps, and deals primarily with how geography related to strategy, as well as the difficulties it created in waging any sort of military campaign. The third chapter deals primarily with organizational systems, and how the late Roman army became the thematic army. While the description far surpasses any that I have read to date, it does feel like Dr. Haldon is withholding a lot of information, especially considering his lengthy bibliography on the topic of middle Byzantine military organization. Although this particular topic could occupy several books, it is a shame that this chapter isn't another 50 pages longer or so. However, given its readability and how succinct of a summary that it is, it would be unreasonable to fault Dr. Haldon for not turning that one chapter into a book on its own. The following chapter continues the evolution of the army, but focuses instead on equipment, recruitment and tactical organization, providing a well-rounded and balanced picture of the army's evolution. The fifth and sixth chapters make up the bulk of the middle of the book, and deal with the army at war, the first on campaign, and the second on combat. The campaign section deals with camps, logistics and marching orders, while the combat section discusses the actual experience of battle, something that we do not know a whole lot about. The final chapter deals with the issues surrounding the status of soldiers, and how they behaved in society, and is quite revealing, as it uses often-obscure hagiographical evidence. The book closes with a brief concluding chapter and three appendices that all discuss logistics, and how we can calculate the amounts of food needed for soldiers and pack animals using the Law of Diminishing Returns. Although this system seems largely based upon Engel's study of the supply of Alexander the Great's army, it is nonetheless updated, interesting and useful.
This is an excellent history of how warfare relates to the Byzantine state and society. It is an essential read for any discussion of the Byzantine military, and now that it is in paperback, this important academic work is now affordable. If it has one problem, it is the use of endnotes. Haldon's notes are good, but would have served the text much better as footnotes, as one has to flip back and forth constantly. However, given the quality of work contained within, this is a minor complaint. This book is important for anyone interested in Byzantine warfare, and essential reading for any serious study of the topic.
I have had this book for over ten years and still believe it is a wonder, although it is perhaps not perfect. It is THE main reference on Byzantine warfare, although it does not cover byzantine warfare during the whole of the Empire's long life. It sgtarts from the death of Justinian (565), so that warfare during the second half of the 5th and most of the 6th century is not covered. In addition, and although it is portrayed as going up to 1204, it is in fact weak on the Komnenian period (1081-1204). John Haldon even gives the impression of having little interest in it and dismisses the imperial armies of this period in a rather off-handed way.
Despite these two shortcomings (which explain why the book gets four stars rather than the five that it would otherwise deserve), what you are left with is a superb book spanning some 500 years (about 500 AD to 1071, more or less). This is the period during which the Empire became "byzantine", had to fight for its survival, often on several fronts, managed to both survive, organize itself for war and expand but ended up by "losing the peace", as another byzantine historian once put it. This book has the same focus (mainly on the military and foreign relations) as "the Making of Byzantium" by Mark Whittow, although both as just as good. Below, I have listed what I believe to be some of its main qualities.
The first three chapters present the context of Byzantine warfare, starting by the attitudes to warfare, but also, and very interestingly, the geographical and strategic context. One of the interesting points is that while Constantinople had typically been presented as ideally and strategically located, the rest of the Empire was not that easy to defend and was certainly exposed to attacks on several fronts. It is, contens the author, this situation of relative vulnerability that informed the use of the Empire's armed forces which is told in the third chapter which is very aptly entitled "Protect and Survive".
2) Administration and logistics
This is another of the book's strongpoints and one of Haldon's favorite topics. Through b oth the core text and his annexes, Haldon shows what a major challenge it was at the time to move around and feed large armies. He also shows that the optimal size of a force for a raid tended to be around 1000 cavalry and for major operations something around 10000. Another finding is that Byzantine armies could carry with them food and water for a maximum of three weeks before they had to re-supply. This also imposed major constraints on the range and length of campaigns. One of the reasons for these limitations, which also existed during the Roman Empire but were more accute during the Middle Ages, was that the Roman road system across the Empire had largely fallen into disuse and not been kept up everywhere, both because of the invasions and because of the maintenance costs that could not longer be afforded. As a result, mules tended to replace carts and heavier means of transport for carrying supplies, therefore reducing the amounts that could be moved to supply any given force.
3) Late Roman, thematic and tagmatic systems
The core pieces of the book, and where Haldon is perhaps at his best, are the descriptions of the Late Roman military organization, including deployment and logistics up to the Arab onslaught of the 7th century, the thematic organization based on localized forces backed up by a relatively small but more mobile central army mainly made up of cavalry regiments and the shifting emphasis, during the 10tn century, on having professional full-time soldiers stationed closer to the frontiers for offensive campaigns. The latter corresponds to what is sometimes called the "Byzantine Reconquests" (around 927 to 1025). One possible weakness of this book is that that it does not emphasize or identify what is essentialy the next period (from 1025 to 1071) during which the army evolved and the reasons for further departure from the thematic troops, but also from having large bodies of byzantine professional native troops. One reason was cost. The other was political risks which were well shown by the major rebellions that Basile II had to face in the earlier part of his reign. So, part of these troops were disbanded and some replaced by regiments of mostly foreign mercenaries who only owed their loyalty to their paymaster, the emperor.
4) Campaigns and combat
Thgese sections are also excellent. Haldon explains ib detail what became a key tenent of Byzantine military doctrine, and a departuire from the Roman times: engagements were only to take place if the odds were in favor of the Byzantines. Moreover, and even then, victories that could be gained with a minimum or no bloodshed were preferable. This is perhaps one of the main originalities of Byzantine warfare. While its filiation to Roman times if often mentioned (and over used), the link is rather to the second half of the fourth century and to the fifth century, when the Empire was at bay, rather than to the Imperial first or second centuries, when roman forces and generals aggressively seeked battle to destroy the enemy.
Anyway, this is a "must read" for anyone interested in Byzantium or its military forces, roughly between 565 and 1025, although it is often not an easy read. Note also that there are now some more specialized books dealing with some of the sub periods. One of the very best is Eric McGeer's "Sowing the Dragon's teeth" on warfare during the 10th century. Others are not so good...