Maurikian Byzantine Army

    Maurikian Byzantine - DBA #91
    578 - 650 AD.

    Note: The pictures of figures are thumbnailed links.  Click on them to view notes on the castings, painting and larger photos.  A word of warning - the pictures are slightly inaccurate representations of this particular Byzantine Army.  It was based on an incorrectly labelled DBA Army Pack.  Some day I shall buy proper figures for a correct Maurikian army and consign this army to the Flea Market.

    Army Composition

    Byzantine Cavalry

    Byzantine cavalry of this period were a mixture of types.  Some possessed frontal horse armour, some were armed with lance, some with bow, perhaps some with both weapons.  Those troopers with horse armour would be lance armed primarily.  For DBA you can mount differently armed troops on the same base or alternatively have half the elements armed with lance, and the remainder armed with bow.

    Historically the General's element would be a unit of cavalry, the elite boukellarioi.

    2x2LH or 3Cv
    The Light Horse option could be either Moors, Khazars, Huns or even actual native Byzantine horse.  Although no mention is made of Byzantine light horse in any primary source for this period it is reasonable to assume that they did indeed exist.  The option of more cavalry would represent more Byzantine horse as above.
    The Optimates, a unit of Goths in Byzantine service, armed and clothed in their native gothic style.
    Byzantine foot or skoutatoi, armed with spear and large shields.
    Bow armed troops, perhaps with a small buckler for defense.  Historically used as rear rank support for the skoutatoi and to harass enemy formations and horse.  A stand of javelin armed psiloi or native Armenians could be raised if desired, or perhaps some Moorish allies could be employed as psiloi in defense of North Africa.


    The Eastern Roman Empire, beset on all sides by numerous enemies, nearly followed the fate of its Western counterpart during this period.  An epic decades long struggle punctuated with brief truces with the Sassanid Persians (#73b) brought both the Persian and the Byzantine Empires to their knees.  In Italy, the hardwon gains made by earlier by Emperor Justinian and his skilled Generals were mostly lost by a Lombard (#85) invasion of the peninsula.  Greece and Thrace were not spared invasions either; the Early Bulgars (#87), the Slavs (#89) and especially the warlike Avars (#90) overrun all of the Balkans and Greece.  And if all these fierce opponents were not enough, a new and even more dangerous enemy appeared; the Muslim Arab Conquest (#96), which drove the Byzantines out of Syria and North Africa permanently.

    Historical Notes

    The years between 578AD and 650AD were a time of great change for the Byzantine Empire.  Although the Empire was brought to the brink of disaster, a string of effective Emperors managed to weather the storm and emerge in some respects stronger than ever.

    At the beginning of this army's timespan in 578, the Empire was already shrinking.  After jointly destroying the Gepids, both the Lombards and the Avars began moving into Byzantine territory.  The Lombards migrated over the Alps and began occupying Italy.  The long wars of Italian reconquest during Justinian's reign had exhausted the country; the Lombards encountered little resistance.  The Avars headed into the Balkans, ultimately conquering almost the whole area right down into Greece, and even managed to besiege Constantinople in conjunction with the Sassanid Persians.

    Although the evidence is sketchy it seems that the Emperor Maurice began the process of overhauling the old military system inherited from the Roman Empire and replacing it with the Thematic system.  The outlying provinces of Ravenna and Carthage became exarchates since those provinces were threatened constantly by the Lombards and Berbers, and communication with Constantinople was fast becoming tenuous.  The exarchates established a basically military style of government.

    Maurice, inheriting an empty treasury and the high costs of several wars attempted many military economies throughout his reign.  His most successful diplomatic coup was successfully aiding a claimant called Chosroes during a Persian civil war to take the throne.  The grateful King Chosroes sweared eternal peace with Constantinople, which ended the eastern frontier's running sore.  However Maurice's attempts of lower pay and less rations were all greeted with mutiny by the army, until finally an order to have the army spend the winter under canvas in the Balkans, rather than bringing them back (and therefore paying them) caused a military revolt.  The army marched home and killed the Emperor, raising their commander, Phocas to the purple.

    Skutatoi Phocas' reign was undoubtedly the lowest point of the Byzantine Empire (excluding the final few years of course).  The Sassanid King Chosroes saw his opportunity and now sweared vengeance against the usurper of his benefactor.  Phocas' only reaction to the invasion was to torture and kill imaginary assassins and conspirators, including the only Byzantine general compentent enough to stop Chosroes.  The Persians overran Anatolia and most of the Middle East and pushed to the very walls of Constantinople.

    Luckily salvation was at hand.  Heraclius, exarch of Africa, equipped an army and sent his son, also named Heraclius, to Constantinople in 610.  The hated Phocas was abandoned by the population, who welcomed younger Heraclius with open arms.  As Phocas was dragged in chains to face the victorious Heraclius, he actually showed some spirit -

      "And is it thus," spoke the conqueror, " that you have governed your empire?"
      "Are you sure," said his victim, "that you will be able to do any better?"
      ---Romilly Jenkins

    Heraclius was in no hurry to confront Chosroes.  Indeed things got much worse - Cilicia was taken, Jerusalem fell, the Slavs conquered all of Greece and by 617 Egypt had been surrendered to Persia.  Facing such losses, Heraclius seriously considered abandoning Constantinople and retreating to Africa, making Carthage his capital.  However the people of Constantinople pleaded with him to stay.  He reconsidered, and finally marched forth.  For the next six years Heraclius campaigned against Persia, singlemindedly seeking her destruction.  Amazingly enough he succeeded.  He won victory after victory, smashing Persian armies and destroying her cities.  Finally in 628, the Persians assassinated their king and sued for peace.

    Psiloi Heraclius saved the empire, but had also changed it permanently into the true Byzantine empire.  Almost certainly he was the emperor who reorganized the state along military lines, into Themes.  Under him the empire officially adopted the Greek language.  Note that the citizens still regarded themselves as Romans; they just happened to be Greek speaking Romans.

    Sadly Heraclius lived to see the loss of all his hardwon victories.  The rapidly rising power of the Moslem Arabs destroyed a huge Byzantine army in the critical battle of Yarmuk in 636, which resulted in the permanent loss of the Middle East and Egypt.  Sick and broken, Heraclius died in 641.

    His son, Constans II, after a bit of rival tongue and nose slitting, emerged as his successor.  Like his father he proved a capable although unlucky emperor (he was ignominously beaten to death in his bath by a soapdish) and seems to have extended the Thematic system of manpower into Sicily and Italy by about 650, which marks the chronological end of the DBA Maurikian Army and the beginning of the Thematic list.

    Army Tactics

    This army can be rather effective if its cavalry mobility is used properly.  Terrain should be mostly open and good going.  Try, if possible, to use the 400p speed of the cavalry to outmaneuver your opponent and overwhelm a portion of his army.  Under the proposed DBA 1.2 changes, cavalry is quite powerful now.  Don't hesitate to throw your cavalry elements against pike or spear walls.  Worse case, they'll flee.  Best case - you've got an opening to rush through!

    The foot elements of spear and psiloi can be useful, but they tend to get left behind.  However they can form a strong reserve.  The psiloi can back up the spear, or be used to seize critical areas of badgoing that your cavalry dare not enter.

    A note on the single Gothic knight element.  These boys have a rather short lifespan usually.  Given their combat factor they tend to win most mounted combats, but being knights they'll follow up wins automatically.  Your other horse does not, so the knights end up being double-overlapped and die quickly.  They move slowly to boot.  Leave them behind as a reserve; perhaps with the spear.  You'll be tempted, but putting them in a line of your cavalry slows the whole lot down for no good reason.


    Phil Barker, The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, Wargames Research Group.
    Ian Heath, Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066, Wargames Research Group.
    Romilly Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610-1071, University of Toronto Press.
    David Nicolle, Yarmuk 636AD, Osprey Campaign Series.
      ---Romano-Byzantine Armies 4th - 9th Century, Osprey Men at Arms Series.
    John Julius Norwich, Byzantium - the Early Centuries, Penguin.
    Warren Treadgold, Byzantium and Its Army, Stanford.
      ---A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford.

    Visit the DBA Resource Page Bookstore to purchase these and other Byzantine histories.

    Related Websites

    De Imperatoribus Romanis  A wonderful site about the Roman Empire and its Emperors covering the period from 27BC to 1453AD.
    Armenian Historical Sources  Translated primary source describing the Byzantine empire in the 7th century.
    ORB Online Encyclopedia  Good overview of 7th century Byzantine history.
    DBA Resource Page  Chris Brantley's excellent essay on the Maurikian army.


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