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Byzantine Sources

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 7 months ago

Byzantine Sources


The Byzantine lists were compiled using the sources listed below. There is plenty of room for interpretation, even though the Byzantine army is one of the armies that we have the most information on in the early medieval period.

The sources are of course limited to languages I can handle and include both primary sources, i.e. Byzantine treatises that have been translated, as well as a bunch of secondary sources.


I hope this compilation might be of some use to those interested in the period.


/Ulf Olsson





Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth, Byzantine Warfare in the Tenth Century

Eric Mc Geer

Dumbarton Oaks Studies XXXIII, 1995

ISBN 0-88402-224-2

This is definitely THE source for the period of the Soldier Emperors. It consists of three manuals written by, or for, the Emperor Nikephoros II, a successful military commander who made himself Emperor and the man that the Nikephorian Byzantine list is named after.



Maurice’s Strategikon, Handbook of Byzantine Military Strategy

Emperor Maurice, translated by George T. Dennis

University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984

ISBN 0-8122-1772-1

Another primary source, but from an earlier period. Maurice was assassinated in 602. There is quite a lot of continuity between this early work and the manuals of Nikephoros in spite of the fact that it was written more than 300 years later. Highly recommended.


Three Byzantine Military Treatises

Translated by George T Dennis

Dumbarton Oaks, 1985

ISBN 0-884-02140-8

A most interesting translation of three Byzantine military manuals. One is from the 6th century and covers strategy and military operations in general. The other two are from the late 10th century and cover skirmishing warfare and campaigns organisation and tactics respectively. Very useful with lots of military information. The outlook of th evarious anonymous authors (who were definitely military officers) is surprisingly modern. Very highly recommended.


The Alexiad of Anna Comnena

Anna Comnena

Penguin Books

ISBN 0-14-044215-4

A primary source written by the daughter of Emperor Alexios Komnenos. It is about the Komnenan period of course, and a very good source and a good read. One of very few medieval books written by a woman.


Digenis Akritas, The Two-Blood Border Lord

Anonymous, Translated by Denison B. Hull

Ohio University Press, 1972

ISBN 0-8214-0833-X

Another primary source in the form of a traditional epic poem extolling the virtues of a Christian border lord in Anatolia in the 8th century. This is a very interesting read on the life-style and outlook of the border nobles. The Muslim and Christian border lords have more in common with each other than with their respective central governments and the incessant border warfare is an aristocratic blood-sport. The various lords ride about with their private retinues hunting big game, fighting the equally aristocratic enemy and being generally heroic as well as deeply religious.




De Administrando Imperio

Constantine Porphyrogenitus

Dumbarton Oaks, 2000

ISBN 0-88402-021-5

This is a translation of the politico/diplomatic manual written by the emperor Constantine VII for his son Diogenes in the mid-10th Century. It does not give any military information but has lots of information on politics and foreign diplomacy and the way that the Byzantine government viewed other states. Highly recommended.


Fourteen Byzantine Rulers

Michael Psellus

Penguin, 1982

ISBN 0-14-044-169-7

An important source for political history and insight into the personalities of leading figures of the 10th and 11th century Byzantium. Psellus was a courtier and politician who actually knew and worked with several emperors. It does not contain much specifically military information, but remains a very interesting read. Psellus helped shape Byzantine policy in the mid 11th century and was prominent in one of the major political factions, so he is definitely biased. Highly recommended.


Warfare and society in the Byzantine World 565-1204

John Haldon

UCL Press, 1999

ISBN 1-85728-495-X

A very good academic study of the Byzantine view of warfare. It deals extensively with recruitment, numbers of soldiers available, the social framework the armed forces of the Empire operated within, etc, but also contains quite a bit about tactical organisation and tactics. Highly recommended. If you are going to read just a couple of books on the Byzantine armed forces, this and Warren Treadgold’s book on the army, are probably the ones to pick.



Byzantine Wars

John Haldon

Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2001

ISBN 0-7524-1777-0

The title is a little misleading. This book is a series of descriptions of individual battles fought by the Byzantine army from Justinian to the Crusades. But some of the descriptions are very good and some of the battles are, as far as I know, not really described at all anywhere else. It also contains very useful maps and photographs of the terrain of the battlefields and surrounding areas as they appear today.



Byzantium’s Balkan Frontier, A political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204

Paul Stephenson

Cambridge University Press, 2000

ISBN 0-521-77017-3

A good academic study of the Empire in the Balkans. Not a military history, but rather a history of the political framework the army operated in. It does contain a bit of information about the forces available to the Empire in the Balkans and also detailed information on various less well known conflicts in the region.


Byzantium and its army, 284 – 1081

Warren Treadgold

Stanford University Press, 1995

ISBN 0-8047-2420-2

Another very good study of the Byzantine army. It emphasises the recruitment and organisational side of the army, rather than tactical practice, but there are very useful sections on that subject as well. Treadgold has a rather different view of the Byzantine army than Haldon does, though. Highly recommended.



The Byzantine Revival 780 – 842

Warren Treadgold

Stanford University Press, 1988

ISBN 0-8047-1896-2

An academic political history of the recovery of the Byzantine Empire from a state of near collapse to a much more secure position where it can even begin to think about expansion. Very good description of a neglected period with some useful information on the Thematic army.



The Late Byzantine Army, Arms and Society 1204-1453

Mark C. Bartusius

University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997

ISBN 0-8122-3179-1

An academic study of the late Byzantine army. Later than the period of the lists I've compiled so far, but still very useful. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the post-4th Crusade Byzantine army. The army was no longer a really major power but kept on fighting for 250 years.



The Roman Empire Divided 400-700

John Moorhead

Longman, UK, 2001


A good recent political history of the Empire’s transition from the late Roman Empire to the Byzantine Empire.



Byzantium, The Early Centuries,

Byzantium, The Apogee,


Byzantium, The Decline and Fall

John Julius Norwich

Penguin Books, UK, 1999

ISBN 0-14-01147-5, 0-14-01148-3 and 0-14-011449-2

This series of books is probably the best all-round history of the Byzantine Empire. However, it is starting to show its age and does not contain much in the way of detailed military information and devotes a lot of space to the various religious issues of the time.




Romanus Lecapenus, A study of 10th Century Byzantium

John Julius Norwich

Cambridge University Press, UK, 1929 reprinted 1988

ISBN 0-521-35722-5

A very good and interesting study of the self-made Emperor Romanus Lecapenus. Warfare does occur quite frequently, but the main emphasis is on politics and the character of the Emperor and the people around him.




The Days of the Warlords

Paul A. Blaum

University Press of America, 1994

ISBN 0-8191-9657-6

An interesting political study of a few years at the end of the 10th century when civil wars and rebellions caused some serious upheavals. Battles, rebellions, foreign wars and treachery are frequent. The Emperor can’t really trust anyone, especially not his relatives, friends and old associates. In fact, no one can trust anyone at all. Ever. Very interesting, even if the insights into politics (and human nature) are a bit depressing.



Byzantium, The Imperial Centuries AD 610-1071

Romilly Jenkins

University of Toronto Press, 1987

ISBN 0-333-49601-9

Yet another political history of the Byzantine Empire. Also good, even if not quite up to the stylistic standards of John Julius Norwich. It is more modern, however.




The Varangian Road to Byzantium

A. Blöndal

Cambridge University Press, 1964

This is the only full-length history of the Varangians in relation to the Byzantine Empire that I know of. It is quite learned and based on Icelandic, Greek and Arabic sources. But it is outdated in some respects, originally written in the 1930s and translated into English and updated a bit in the 1960s. It also suffers from some curious ideas about ‘national character’ that were unfortunately quite common when the book was written.



The Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History

John Haldon

Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

ISBN 1-4039-1772-8

A very good historical atlas of the Byzantine part of the world, plus quite a bit about neighbouring regions. I does not concentrate on military matters, but do show topography, cities, major roads, etc. Especially useful since a lot of features have changed names since the Byzantine period.

Highly recommended.



The Byzantine Empire 1025 - 1204

Michael Angold

Longman, 1997

ISBN 0-582-29468-1

A good political history of Byzantium from the death of Basil II to the loss of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade. This is a good read and very informative on political issues, but short on military information. It does contain much useful input on Byzantine foreign policy.


Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs

Nadia Maria El Cheikh

Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2004

ISBN 0-932885-30-6

An interesting view from 'the other side of the hill', this book looks at the view that the Arabs had of their Byzantine adversaries. Very interesting, it contains more information on military matters than one would expect. It is a very academic book and primarily political, religious and historiagraphical, though.



First Crusader, Byzantium's Holy Wars

Geoffrey Regan

Sutton, 2001

ISBN 0-7509-2026-2

A rather well written view of the wars of Heraclius, plus a little on later confrontation between Byzantium and the Arabs. This is not an academic book, but aimed at the general reader, so does not include extensive notes. A It covers political maneuvering, campaigns and battles reasonably well, but does not contain much informaion on the Byzantine, Persian or Islamic armies. But it is a good read and a painless introduction to the era of Heraclius, the last war against the Persians and the coming of Islam.



Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests

Walter E. Kaegi

Cambridge University Press, 2003

ISBN 0-521-48455-3 Covers Byzantium from the end of the last war against the Persians and describes the Islamic conquests and Byzantium's response. A very interesting read. It is (in contrast to Regan's book) a very academic piece of work. Together with Kaegi's book on Heraclius, this is the best and most thorough examination of the period. Covers political and military maneuvers in as much detail as it is possible to do given the sources. Not the most accessible of books, but very good indeed.


Heraclius, Emperor of Byzantium

Walter E. Kaegi

Cambridge University Press, 2003

ISBN 0-521-03698-4

A biography of the Emperor Heraclius. This is a very good book and covers the period of his reign in detail. It does focus on Heraclius and not on his army (not surprising in a biography) but still contains quite a bit of military information. Of special interest is the emphasisi on the close relationship between diplomacy and intrigue and military operations in the field. Highly recommended.



Medieval Warfare Source Book, volume 2: Christian Europe and its Neighbours

David Nicolle

Arms and Armour Press, 1992

ISBN 1-85409-307-X

This is a good overview of military matters in the Muslim world, those parts of Christian Europe that faced the Muslim onslaught, i e Byzantium and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Sassanid Persia and Central Asia. The Period covered is roughly AD 400 - AD 1400. This is a very useful book that compares the military forces of these regions in a readable, but not simplistic way. Highly recommended.

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