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Abstracts, 2010 Spring Symposium

Warfare in the Byzantine World

Friday, April 30th–Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Symposiarch: John F. Haldon, Princeton University

Government by Exception and Exemption: Evidence from the Later Byzantine Military

Mark Bartusis, Northern State University

One of the ways in which earlier and later Byzantium differed was in the personalization of power. From the later eleventh through the fourteenth century the functioning of the state was characterized increasingly by gifts and concessions. The Komnenoi through the Palaiologoi ran their governments by handing out privileges. As the empire became more of a family business, privileges that were once reserved for a handful of laymen were granted to an ever-widening circle of imperial subjects.

Venality and favoritism were not new to later Byzantium, but from the late eleventh to the fourteenth century they were transformed from vices to necessities, and then to virtues. Every office was accompanied by a grant of property. Monasteries and lay landowners received their fiscal privileges through chrysobull, soldiers and other received their pronoiai, and foreign merchants received their concessions. We arrive at government by connection and by favor. By the time Michael Ⅷ Palaiologos came to the throne, the process was nearly complete. Whereas the Komnenoi institutionalized government by privilege, Michael Ⅷ oversaw its bureaucratization. The old dynamic of order (taxis) vs. accommodation (oikonomia) was at play, and in the end accommodation won out. Byzantium became medieval.

This paper examines how the personalization of Byzantine society affected the military, specifically in the financing of soldiers and the recruitment and promotion of the officer corps, and how lineage and bonds of kinship and friendship affected military decisions and policies.

Byzantium Confronts its Neighbours: Islam and the Crusaders

John France, Swansea University

The story of the crusades is usually presented as a two-sided narrative with the Byzantines playing a very limited role. This paper seeks to examine Byzantine military activity in the context of the empire's diplomatic relations with the world around it. In particular it will look at the Byzantine army, performance, logistics, etc. in the period.

The Medieval Logistics Project: Warfare on the Grid

Vince Gaffney, University of Birmingham, UK

The Medieval Warfare on the Grid project uses agent-based modelling to examine the logistical challenges of transporting the Byzantine army of Romanos IV Diogenes from western Anatolia to the site of the Battle of Manzikert in AD 1071. This project, funded by a joint UK JISC/EPSRC/AHRC E-Science Programme examines the practical aspects of transporting thousands of men and animals over 700 miles in the medieval period as well as the wider impact on the areas they passed through. It uses data from a variety of different areas including transport infrastructure, taxation, agriculture and military organisation.

Although agent-based modelling has been widely used since the 1990s for applications such as analysing traffic congestion or the spread of epidemics, its use in archaeology has been limited. Agent-based modelling involves determining behavioural rules for a set of agents, in this case the Byzantine army and its support staff, that determine how they interact with each other and their environment. With these models we can look into the relationship between elements of the logistical system such as army size, army movement, taxation and rural productivity. Written sources of information on the battle have largely been exhausted by the historians, and this project will introduce new types of evidence into the debate that surrounds the Byzantine army's preparations.

China, Byzantium, and the Shadow of the Steppe

David A. Graff, Kansas State University

This paper will attempt to locate Byzantine military practices and techniques in a wider Eurasian context by examining Chinese military practice from the late sixth century to about the end of the seventh century (Sui and early Tang dynasty). Special attention will be given to what survives of the Military Methods of Li Jing, a prominent general and statesman of the early Tang whose work is comparable in scope to the Strategikon attributed to the emperor Maurice. Many of the specific tactical recommendations offered by Li Jing, such as deployment in multiple echelons and strict limitation of pursuit, closely parallel those found in the Strategikon, and both works take a similarly cautious approach to the risks of battle. The military common ground shared by these two empires, so distant from one another and so different in a great many other ways, can in part be explained by common material conditions and by their inheritance of textual traditions that stressed rationality, pragmatism, and ruthless cunning as the key to success in war. I will argue, however, that the need of both China and Byzantium to adapt and adjust in order to cope with the military challenge posed by the horse nomads of the Eurasian steppe—the dominant military paradigm for most of the first millennium CE—deserves pride of place when accounting for their similarities in warmaking. These adjustments were a relatively recent development for the Romans/Byzantines, whereas the Chinese had been learning to deal with steppe challenges since the fourth century BCE.

Resources, Warfare, and the Manzikert Campaign

John Haldon, Princeton University

Military activity in terms of resource allocation and consumption is formative to pre-modern social formations, yet military studies rarely move beyond contemporary texts to validate the empirical consequences of the military impact on people and their environment. In this paper I will look at a particularly well-studied campaign, that which led up to the battle of Manzikert in 1071, from the perspective of logistical and resource issues. While the battle itself and its outcome are generally agreed to have had a fundamental impact on the course of Byzantine history, the issues of the size of the army and how it moved across Anatolia remain problematic, although a correct appreciation of these factors is just as fundamental to understanding both the nature of medieval warfare in the region as well as appreciating the impact of the conflict politically and strategically. There are also wider and far-ranging methodological issues at stake, and in setting out what we think we know about the campaign, I hope to highlight some of these problems and suggest alternative ways to grapple with the questions which arise, focusing in particular on the need to combine traditional historical research methods—including textual analysis and the use of written sources, archaeological survey and excavation and related and auxiliary research (palynology, dendrochronology, ceramic survey, settlement-distribution analysis and survey)—with the new technologies and approaches which the Medieval Warfare on the Grid Project and the International Medieval Logistics Project are employing.

The Face of Protracted War

Walter Emil Kaegi, University of Chicago

The face of war is not synonymous with the recently popular but contested concept of the face of battle. Sources vary. In the long term archaeological and epigraphic testimony will probably have the decisive word. However narrative historians provide some of the most realistic descriptions of the face of war, especially protracted war, and its effects on ordinary people. Their numbers include eyewitnesses such as Procopius, Michael Attaleiates, and, from a later period, George Pachymeres. But Kekaumenos offers a different eyewitness wisdom. All of these use autopsy and benefit from experience in the provinces, often far from Constantinople. Rhetorical treatises and most military manuals and collections of letters, however valuable for some purposes, are not optimal sources for this inquiry. Some Muslim geographers likewise give useful but skewed testimonial. We have to investigate the trustworthiness of their reports, which often reflect an agenda that is not value-free. I shall assess what the Muslim geographers and travelers can elucidate. Another complex and difficult related subject is the evaluation of the ways in which the pressures to maintain a constant war-footing affected Byzantine social and governmental structures and of course finally the subjects of the empire. Ultimately long-lived and relatively effective military infrastructures were expensive to maintain but also expensive to change to confront new challenges and conditions. These infrastructures had their costs and could not simply be tweaked. Protracted warfare had some distorting or skewing effects on Byzantine society. In this paper I shall try to assess the challenges and limitations of evidence to understand impacts on ordinary people. Long-term survival of an ageing empire required decision-makers to cope with making policies within political and budgetary constraints that had effects on the local level as well as on the policy-makers.

The Paradoxes of Heroism in Byzantium: Military Saints and Secular Warriors

Anthony Kaldellis, The Ohio State University

Before the twelfth century, Byzantium was more militarized than heroic. Its ruling class desired offices and titles rather than glory, which could be perceived as threatening by the court. Battlefield exploits were, instead, typically remembered about common soldiers. Personal heroism was a demotic virtue before it was appropriated by the Komnenoi. The only attempt at literary epic poetry was Theodosios the deacon's classicizing Capture of Crete. The official religion, moreover, preached peace and subverted heroic manliness by designating the Theotokos, the least martial figure conceivable, as the supernatural guardian of the empire-at-arms. The paradox was highlighted by the military saints, Roman soldiers who had not died in battle but were executed by their commanding officers for their faith. It is not until the twelfth century that we can speak of an ideology of heroism, which combined a renewed interest in the military saints with Homeric language and values, the tales of Digenis (which, presumably, were of demotic origin), and personal battlefield exploits by generals and even emperors. The new style was mocked by Prodromos. This paper will survey the history of martial heroism in Byzantium and uncover its paradoxes.

A Conflicted Heritage: The Byzantine Religious Establishment of a War Ethic

John A. McGuckin, Union Theological Seminary & Columbia University, New York

It has long been noted that most of the pre-Constantinian Christian writings on the issues of war and military service depict both as a sign of the old civilization tied to principles of imperial acquisition by belligerence, and contrast the way of the gods of Rome with the Church's commitment to a pacific and eirenic ideal for society. After Constantine, so the story often goes, the new political exigencies led Christian pacifism astray by compromise. This present study questions the simplicity of that oft-repeated macro-argument, and examines the sources of the Byzantine War ethic as established in the work of the major pre- and post-Constantinian Christian rhetoricians, and the Byzantine canonists, who from the outset creatively combined narratives from both Testaments to present a complex religious politic that is more sophisticated, and more coherent, than has often been appreciated.

The Art of War

Robert S. Nelson, Yale University

Read one way, the history of Byzantium is the history of war and one that seldom ended satisfactorily for Byzantium, as its physical territory slowly shrank from late antiquity to 1453. Indeed, one of the main preoccupations of emperors was or should have been the direct or indirect prosecution of war. Yet, in spite of a rich artistic heritage from antiquity and the talents of its many artists and in contrast to the art of other medieval kingdoms, Byzantium created little overt imagery of war after the early centuries, or so it would seem from surviving evidence. This paper will survey that visual evidence and assess its limitations or its ability to represent past practices, but it will devote more attention to the many varieties of allegorical or symbolic representations of war that abound in secular and religious art. These include saints turned into holy warriors, passive images of emperors that in fact are meant to be war-like or militant, and especially Old Testament narratives of war that served as proxies for contemporary events. Important to the discussion will be comparisons to the art of other medieval societies.

War, Social Change and the Politics of Empire:Prisoners of War between Slavery and Freedom

Youval Rotman, Yale University

The Arab conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries forced Byzantium to come to terms with its new political position of a non-victorious Empire. This situation also had an effect on the everyday life of individual Byzantines who became victims of the continuous attacks, the military invasions, and enemy's raids on both land and sea.

The paper will address the social impact that the situation of a continuous war had on the Byzantine population and on Byzantine social life and the ways in which Byzantine society and Byzantine politics dealt with the loss of freedom of so many of the Empire's inhabitants.

The development of a new type of saint, the Byzantine captive who is caught and enslaved by the infidels, provided religious meaning and moral consolation to the phenomenon of captivity and had both a religious and political agenda. This helped the Byzantines to cope morally with the threat of captivity and the danger of conversion to Islam in Arab lands. Byzantine government, on the other hand, responded to this situation by developing the custom of exchanging prisoners of war, a diplomatic innovation of Byzantium and the Caliphate in the Early and Central Middle Ages. Redeeming captives became prevalent on both private and public levels in contrast to the situation in Late Antiquity. This change symbolized a new phase in imperial politics as the Byzantine Empire became socially and religiously responsible for the life of its inhabitants.

The Visual Representation of Peace

Lioba Theis, University of Vienna

Manifold images of war existed in Byzantium. It is most likely that war was part of the living environment of numerous individuals in Byzantium. But how was war perceived? In general Byzantine imagery demonstrates a remarkable distance from the thematic of war. In this paper the framework of spaces where war images can be found will be explored. A variety of war images will be analysed to expose the painters' approach. In the concluding remarks, the striking irregularity of these settings will be furthermore discussed in the context of images of peace.

Landscapes, Movement, and Logistics: Multi-agent Systems and Simulating Medieval Campaigns

Georgios Theodoropoulos, University of Birmingham, UK

Computer modelling and simulation is an essential tool for the analysis of systems, providing answers to what if questions and enabling users to gain insight into the behaviour of systems and to develop theories that account for that behaviour. Recently, there has been considerable interest in using intelligent agents to model complex social phenomena. These models can emphasise interactions between large numbers of very simple agents on landscapes and the emergent properties that arise from them or they may attempt to capture the complexity of real life circumstances through cognitively rich architectures which allow agents to act according to their own internally generated beliefs and motivations. Agents can represent individuals or collective bodies (groups, organizations) at multiple levels of abstraction. Running agent-based models as simulations can generate hypothetical explanations of events that challenge existing, or support new, hypotheses.

MWGrid is a collaborative interdisciplinary project between the Institute of Archaeology and the School of Computer Science at the University of Birmingham, which is developing a novel simulation framework to support the analysis of the Manzikert campaign. The framework integrates large scale agent-based simulations, environmental models, data sources, visualisation facilities, and grid technologies to enable the analysis of historical, military logistical data (pertaining to movement, communications settlement; production, allocation, consumption of resources, etc.). For the first time a detailed digital representation of the Asia Minor terrain is developed, using a unique set of data available in Birmingham including multispectral satellite mosaics, vegetation maps, geology maps, elevation models, and the Tabula Imperii Byzantini historical maps of the early and late Byzantine period incorporating detailed topography, route, and demographic data. The project is developing sophisticated agent-based modelling techniques to capture the behaviour of the different actors of the Manzikert campaign at different levels of abstraction (soldiers and commanders, army units, etc.) derived from secondary and primary sources. These agent-based models will be used in multiple simulations to analyse events and generate what if scenarios. These models will provide understanding, have explanatory value for the end user, and assist in the analysis of medieval warfare. To deal with the complexity and the large scale of these models the project is developing cutting-edge distributed simulation techniques that will enable the harnessing of the computational power of parallel computer clusters.

The paper will provide an overview of the MWGrid computational framework and will discuss opportunities and challenges for both computer scientists and historians.

Fighting for Peace: The Legitimation of Warfare

Frank R. Trombley, Cardiff University, Wales

Byzantine military law is usually discussed in terms of disciplinary procedures and provisions made for the fiscal support of the armies. There is another dimension to it that has seldom been examined, that is, the customary law of war as expressed in Byzantine state practice and as enunciated or implied in the theoretical pronouncements of emperors, jurisconsults, and ecclesiastical figures. The relevant legal principles of the Byzantine practice of war were generally not codified, but existed mainly in a prevailing consensus about customary practice. I propose to note and examine a wide range of texts that identify theoretical frameworks and praxis between ca. 632–1461. For the sake of convenience, the discussion will be divided under the twin ethical categories of ius ad bellum (the rights and duties of states when initiating war) and ius in bello (humanitarian practice towards soldiers and civilians in the conduct of military operations). Among the issues to be considered will be positive international law (i.e. principles enunciated in treaties and executive agreements with other monarchs), the status of barbarians and barbarian legal norms, structural parallels between Byzantine and possible borrowings from barbarian customary law, norms for undertaking offensive warfare and siege operations, the customary principles codified in Byzantine administrative law (viz. in the tactical manuals), the management of booty, and the rights to life customarily extended to prisoners of war, including persons taken in military and civil rebellions. Also examined will be the evidence for Byzantine theories of peace and peace-making, and juristic, political and theological rationalisations for undertaking aggressive warfare. The range of sources to be investigated will include a sampling of chronicles, histories, law codes, epistolographic corpora, liturgical texts, inscriptions and other documents that provide specific or implied examples of customary law in war.