Crews of the Byzantine Fleets

By John H. Pryor In spite of the fact that some crews in Byzantine fleets at various times were well regarded, for example the Mardaites of the theme of the Kibyrrhaiōtai, there is little evidence to suggest that, in general, Byzantine seamen were so skilled that this gave Byzantine fleets any edge over their opponents. […]

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Christian Crusaders Capture Constantinople

Pope Innocent III inaugurated the Fourth Crusade after Saladin’s empire began to disintegrate. Tragically, however, the crusading army of mostly French nobles was diverted to Constantinople to intervene in Byzantine politics. In 1204, the Christian crusaders stormed and sacked one of Christendom’s greatest cities. This description of the conquest of Constantinople is taken from a […]

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After Heraclius…

Byzantine Empire in 650 under Constans II. When Heraclius died in 641, his death precipitated a dynastic struggle. He was succeeded by two of his sons: Constantine, his son by his first marriage to Eudokia, and Heraclius, known as Heracleonas, his son by his second wife, Martina, who was also his niece. Martina herself was […]

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Byzantium and the Early Crusades II

Imperial bodyguard: Viking mercenaries in a 12th-century Skylitzes manuscript. A map of western Asia Minor, showing the routes taken by Christian armies during the Crusade of 1101. Another serious misunderstanding arose from the Byzantine policy of maintaining diplomatic relations with the Muslim caliphs, other Arab leaders and Turkish emirs. The western knights did not appreciate […]

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Islam’s Initial Conquests I

Raids into Byzantine and Persian territory by Arab tribesmen had long been a feature of life in the region, but it had been sporadic and usually desultory and had not previously been conducted by a unified Arab power. Moreover, by 633 the Byzantine and Persian empires were at a moment of unique weakness; having engaged […]

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Islam’s Initial Conquests II

Once again the Byzantines, fighting desperately, drove off their attackers, and once again passage to the rest of continental Europe was blocked, with great effort. The Muslim threat was still by no means neutralized, however. For some time after 726, Muslim forces invaded Anatolia annually, besieging important and historic Christian cities such as Nicaea, the […]

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Father and Son Save Byzantium in the 8th Century

Avar and Bulgar warriors, eastern Europe, 8th century AD. Leo III (717–741) Leo III, like Herakleios, intervened in Byzantine politics at a decisive moment, and he set the state on a sound basis, militarily and politically. His first problem was an Arab siege of Constantinople, which began almost immediately after he seized the throne. After […]

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Justinian’s Reversal Reversed: Victory and Plague I

Sabbatius Iustinianus, our Justinian I or Justinian the Great, St Justinian the Emperor of the Orthodox Church, was born a peasant’s child in what is now Macedonia, yet came easily to the throne, having long served as assistant, understudy, co‐emperor, and increasingly the effective ruler for his uncle Justin I (518–527). When he was formally […]

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Justinian’s Reversal Reversed: Victory and Plague II

General Belisarius under the walls of Rome, c. 538 AD. The charge of overextension therefore implies a charge of strategic incompetence, or more simply a lack of ordinary common sense: having himself inherited a war with the perpetually aggressive Sassanians when he came to the throne, Justinian had to know that the Persian front had […]

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Justinian’s Disaster I

Human societies may disintegrate for any one of a number of reasons – conquest, pestilence, internal strife or government incompetence. The tragedy which befell the civilisations of the Mediterranean world in 541–2 and undermined its two dominant empires was that all these woes fell upon them at the same time. The empires in question were […]

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