.

Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)


"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Last Roman Legion - Legio V Macedonica


Legio V Macedonica reenactors
Photo Roman Army Talk.com

Rome's Longest Lived Legion
The life of Legio V Macedonica spanned 680 years 
from 43 BC to 637 AD.


For centuries historians have been excited by the very idea of the Roman Legions. The fact that the legions were organized as identifiable individual units made battles far more interesting.  The lack of proper military histories on the Eastern Roman/Byzantine period stems not just from the lack of records, but also from the lack of these identifiable military units.  Without legions history became a bit less "sexy" for the public.

Legio V Macedonica wins the history "award" for the longest legion in existence. But was it?

Proper records of military events become fewer and fewer as you go deeper into the Byzantine period. In one form or another it is very possible that multiple Roman Legions survived into the 600s just as Legio V did.  We simply do not know.

As far as we can tell Legio V Macedonica was first organized about 43 BC by consul Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus and Octavian.  The symbol of the unit was the bull, but the eagle was also used.

There are no records of the first decades of the legion's existence. We do know two other legions, the V Urbana and the V Gallicia, that might have been connected to our unit or even early names for the unit.

Legio V was most likely fighting in 31 BC at the key Battle of Actium.  The unit was then moved to the Roman province of Macedonia where is gained its name.

In addition to Macedonia the legion also provided troops for bases in the provinces of Moesia and Dacia.

In 62 AD some units (Vexillationes) were sent to Armenia to fight against the Persians. After the Roman defeat at Rhandeia the entire legion was shipped east along with three other legions in the victorious was against the Persians.

The legion was still in the east with the Great Jewish Revolt took place in 66 AD.  Emperor Nero assigned legion V Macedonica, X Fretenisi and XV Apollinaris to put down the revolt under the command of Titus Flāvius Vespasiānus.

V Macedonica conquered Mount Gerizim from the rebels. The legion stayed in the Emmaus area for some time to insure the peace. Tombstones of several members of the legion have been found. After their commander Vaspasian was declared emperor the legion finally returned to their base in Moesia after being gone for 10 years.

In 101 the legion moved north into Dacia to help in Emperor Trajan's war on conquest. In 106 at the war's end the legion was stationed in Troesmis near the Danube Delta to keep an eye on one of the restless tribes in the area.

Over the years sub-units of the legion were detached to fight again against the Persians and again to Judea to put down another Jewish revolt.

Units of V Macedonica with units from I Italica and XI Claudia took turns guarding Roman towns in the Crimea.

Workers in the gold mines of Dacia revolted and hired a mercenary army. V Macedonica defeated the rebels. For their reward in 185 or 187 the Emperor Commudus awarded the legion the title of Pia Constans (Faithful and reliable) or Pia Fedelis (Faithful and loyal).

Click map to enlarge.
.
Legio V was sent to the eastern front to fight in the
Roman-Parthian War 58 - 63 AD to help force back the
growing power of the Persians in Armenia.

Legio V Macedonica
Fifth Macedonian Legion
 (Legio V Macedonica) from the city of St. Petersburg, Russia was founded in 2002 in order to reconstruct not only the daily life of the Roman legionaries and civil society, but also the atmosphere of ancient Rome

Photo  -  legvmac.ru

Uniform of a soldier from the later Eastern Roman Period.

Middle Roman Period

Entering politics the V Macedonica backed Septimius Severus in his military overthrow of the government and supported him as Emperor until his reign ended in 211.  A mixed unit of our legion and XIII Gemina accompanied Severus to Rome and fought with him against rebels and against the Persians.

During the third century the legion earned many honors. The Emperor Valerian (253-260) awarded the legion the title Pia III Fidelis III (Thrice faithful and loyal). This means they has already been awarded Pia II but we do not know when. Valerian's son Gallienus gave them the title Pia VII Fidelis VII.

The unit may have earn these honors for their mobile cavalry unit which fought against usurpers and in Gaul defeating the Gallic Emperor Victorinus.
Shield pattern of Legio V Macedonica
in the early 5th century

In 274 AD when the Emperor Aurelian gave up Dacia the legion returned to their Balkans base of Oescus for the third time. The legion helped man other limes forts such as Cebro, Sucidava and Variniana.

The cavalry unit of the legion was assigned by the Emperor Diocletian to be part of a central mobile reserve of the Roman Army.

In 293 the cavalry unit was sent to Memphis, Egypt. But when the Romans were defeated by the Sasanian Persians in 296 the unit was rushed to invade southern Mesopotamia.

After the peace treaty was signed the unit returned to Egypt where it stayed until the early 400s.

Eastern Roman Period

On January 17, 395 AD Emperor Theodosius died and we see the birth of the Eastern Roman Empire.  The death of the Emperor led to the final split of the Empire into two political entities, the West (Occidentale) and the East (Orientale). 

No longer would V Macedonica be called upon to campaign in Gaul or Italy. Orders now came exclusively from Constantinople and the defense of the east was the primary concern.

There was no sudden change. For many decades to come the Eastern Roman Army would not have looked or acted much different from its Western counterpart fighting off the barbarian invasions in Gaul and Italy.  Any changes in unit structure, uniforms and tactics would have been very gradual.  The Eastern Roman military evolution would have been based on changes the economy and the types of enemies they faced.

Section of legionary fortress wall
Oescus - Home of V Macedonica
With a population of 100,000 the fortress city of Oescus on the Danube River was home 
for Legio V Macedonica and a major economic and military strong point for the empire.

At this point in Roman history the records of military actions and individual units become thin at best.  We know that the V Macedonica went on but details of wars and fighting vanish.

The legion would have become a Comitatenses unit under the Magister Militum per Orientis. They were not considered just garrison limes troops. They were used as mobile troops that could be rushed to danger points.

Join the army and see the world. Nothing appears to have changed under Constantinople. After 400 AD troops from the legion are now found in Syria.

The legion's main base of Oescus was on the Danube which was also ground zero for endless barbarian invasions by Huns, Avars and other tribes.

Once again we lack any proper military histories from this period, and the fighting along the Danube by Legio V would have made interesting reading.

In 411 AD the Balkans was invaded by the Huns.  These barbarians descended on Legio V's base in Oescus and destroyed the city. And that simple statement on a major event is all history tells us.

Based on previous reports Legio V's units were spread out manning several different fortresses. So we can assume at least part of the legion was destroyed in the city or forced to retreat in the face of the Huns. Other units would have survived.

Legio V Macedonica is mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions in the cities of Antaeapolis and Heliopolis.

The last inscription is dated 635 or 636 AD.

The Fate of Legio V Macedonica

So we have a period from the Hun invasion to this point in Egypt where 225 years have passed with zero information on the campaigns of the legion.

If the main body of the legion in the Balkans survived the Hun invasion its individual units may have been absorbed by other Roman border forces. If the legion continued on more or less intact we have no record of it.

The most appealing possible story is this last Roman Legion gathering its forces in Egypt to fight their last fight against militant Muslim Arab invaders in 637.

The imagination soars thinking of these outnumbered men holding their bull banner high and marching to their deaths in a last defense of western civilization and the Roman Empire.

Legio V Macedonica




Sestertius minted in 247 by Philip the Arab to celebrate Dacia province and its legions, V Macedonica and XIII Gemina. Note the eagle and the lion, V's and XIII's symbols, in the reverse.

Legio V Macedonica
Photo:  legvmac.ru
The legion was based on the Danube River but fought in campaigns in 
Gaul, Italy, Greece, Dacia, Crimea, Armenia, Judea, Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Legio V Macedonica
Photo:  legvmac.ru


(Roman Legions)      (Oescus)      (Roman-Parthian War)      (Roman legions)

(Legio V Macedonica)      (Legio V Macedonica)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Roman - Byzantine Fortress of Sucidava


Sucidava fort Archaeological site in Romania.

Protecting the Roman Balkans


Sucidava is the complex late Roman fort dating from the 2nd to the 6th century AD, which had a strategic, economic and commercial importance and was situated opposite the Roman colony of Oescus (Gigen, Bulgaria). 
Before the Roman conquest, Sucidava was an important political and administrative center of the Daina tribe of Suci. The late Roman fort of Sucidava was built in the reign of Emperor Gallienus and was in use between the 3th and the 6th century AD.
After 275 AD Sucidava was a permanent military fortification, where parts of units from the V legion Macedonica were in garrison. After 324 AD the headquarter (praefectura) of the legion V Macedonica was established here. Inside the fort a large building with heating system and a paleo-Christian basilica dating from the 6th century AD was discovered.
Roman Troops manned forts along the Danube.

Near the fort there are remains of the 2400 m long bridge, which was built over the Danube in the period of the Emperor Constantine and inaugurated in 328 AD. The late Roman fort was included in the province of Dacia Ripensis as the most northern bastion of the new Late Roman province.
Systematic excavations from 1936 to 1964 at the site of Sucidava (Sykibida Procopius), situated 3 km west of modern Corabia on the north bank of the Danube, have brought to light the remains of a fortified civilian settlement of 25 ha and, at a distance of only 100 m to the south-east, the remains of a separate citadel measuring about 2 ha.
Emperor Maurice
(r. 582 - 602)
Roman troops pulled out
of the fort in 600AD.
There is also a secret underground fountain which flows under the walls of the town to a water spring situated outside. 
The civilian settlement evolved on the site of a Roman garrison at the end of the 2nd century, or the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., while the citadel was built by Constantine the Great (324-337); a stone bridge connecting the citadel with Palatiolon (ancient Oescus), on the other side of the Danube, was constructed simultaneously. 
The coins found at Sucidava site show an uninterrupted series from Aurelian (270-275) to Theodosios II (408-450). In the mid-5th century the Sucidava site suffered from attacks by the Huns, but was again restored, probably under Emperor Justin I or by Emperor Justinian l (527-565). 
On the basis of the numismatic profile, the Byzantine garrison seems to have departed from Sucidava around A.D. 600.
Near the fort there are remains of the 2400 m long bridge, which was built over the Danube in the period of the Emperor Constantine and inaugurated in 328 AD.




Foundation of the church, the first Christian church north of the Danube.

Entrance to the fort's well.

A well in the fort. From a tourist:
"The clay pot is supposedly original. The guide was happy to offer us a drink."


Sucidava, Roman fortress on the Danube




The Roman Limes System
.
The Latin word Limes was initially used by the ancient Romans to indicate the limit between two areas, for example - the limit between two pastures. Even so, several ancient authors used this word, referring to the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Historians of today use this term in a wider sense, to describe the defense system, diplomatic and military issues, but also economic, religious and other issues involved.
The Roman Empire Limes has known its greatest expansion in the A.D. 2-nd century, having a length of over 5000 km. It was reaching from the Atlantic shores of Scotland, cutting across Europe, touching the Black Sea and continuing on to the Red Sea, travelling through North Africa to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.
The frontiers were a symbol of the power, ambition and culture of the Roman Empire, promoting the Roman way of life, all across the Empire.
Today, the signs of the Limes are to be found in the built walls, ditches, earthen ramparts, castra, fortresses, signal towers and civilian settlements.
The limes physical structure differs along its path, from the walls, earthen ramparts, palisades, to the rivers, desert, and mountains. And so, its purpose also differs, across time, the limes was a control area and point of passing the information, commerce area and migration, as well as an area with a defensive role.
See more:


(Danubian Limes)      (danubelimesbrand)      (panacomp.net)      (sucidava)

(Sucidava)      (superlative-fortress)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Roman Empire vs Islam - First Contact


19th century photo of an Arab warrior. The Arabs invading the
Roman Empire might have looked much like this warrior.

Violent Islam roars in 
from the desert


In 629 AD the Roman Empire was enjoying a much deserved period of peace.  No one in Constantinople had any idea that a fresh invasion from the southern deserts would happen in a matter of months.

For 26 years the Roman and Persian Empires had been in the death grip war of all death grip wars.  The 700 years of war between the empires came down to this one life and death conflict.  Only one empire would survive the encounter.

The Roman Empire nearly ceased to exist. The Persians conquered massive territories in the east, south and in Africa. Meanwhile the Avars and Slavs overran the Balkans and with the help of the Persians laid siege to Constantinople itself in 626.

Things were so bad that the Emperor Heracilus considered abandoning Constantinople and moving the capital to Carthage in Africa. The Patriarch Sergius convinced the Emperor to stay and put the wealth of the church at the service of the state to finance the wars.

Roman Emperor Heraclius
Crowned Caesar in 610. Latin was still the official
language of the military and government. The Emperor
faced invasions by Persians, Avars and Muslim Arabs.

The Persian Empire in 621 AD.
The Persians nearly destroyed the Roman Empire by conquering large parts of Anatolia up to Constantinople itself as well as taking Syria, Mesopotamia, Georgia, Palestine and Egypt. Though Persia was finally defeated, the weakened Roman state became an easier target for the coming Muslim Arab invasions.

With financing from the church, Emperor Heracilus raised additional armies and hired Khazar Turk allies to invade Persia with him.

By 628 the Persian Empire had been totally crushed, Shah Khosrow II was murdered by his own son and the Persian armies were withdrawn from Egypt, Syria and other Roman provinces.

There may have finally been "peace" between Rome and Persia, but it was a disastrous peace.  The Persians sank into dynastic anarchy while the Romans were financially, militarily and politically exhausted.

The two great empires of the world were at their weakest point at just the moment a militant and militaristic Islam appeared.

Islam Appears

The 620s saw the birth of Islam deep in Arabia.  General Mohammad, or prophet if you like, was simultaneously a military commander, ruler and prophet. The emotional appeal of religion was combined with terrorist methods and assassinations to clear the way for gathering territory for the faith.

As the battles of General Mohammad progressed the base of Arabia was secured for Islam and Muslim eyes started to look north to the Roman Empire for expansion.

In the year 628 Mohammad dispatched messages to the Shah of Persia, the Roman Emperor, the Governor of Egypt and the Prince of Abyssinia asking them to accept Islam.

The Shah was said to have torn up the message with contempt. Emperor Heracilus accepted his letter and simply inquired who the author was. The Governor of Egypt excused himself from changing religions, but sent as gifts a horse, a mule, a riding ass and two Egyptian girls. If the Prince of Abyssinia got the message at all there is no record of a reply.

Heracilus gave orders that he wanted to interview a traveler from the area. One Abu Sofian was brought to Jerusalem and asked about the "disturbances" in Arabia.  Sofian told the Emperor that the followers of Mohammad consisted of the poorer classes and of adolescent youth. All men of substance opposed him.

The Emperor gathered intel, but did not act. The internal goings on among poor desert tribes did not require much attention.

19th century photo of Arab warriors

The Battle of Mota (Mu'tah)
3,000 Arabs vs 10,000 Romans


In 629 a number of minor raids and expeditions were sent out from Arabia.  Some were defeated and others returned with booty.

In September, 629 a more important expedition was organized. Tradition says the raid was to punish a chief of Rome's ally the Arab Ghassanid tribe for killing Muslim emissaries in the area. Revenge rather than conquest appears to be the motive.

A Muslim camp was formed a few miles north of Medina where volunteers were instructed to assemble.  Zeid ibn Haritha, the adopted son of Mohammad, was given command. He set out with 3,000 men marching to what is today southern Jordan. It was the first Muslim raid of this size going far from Arabia.

Muslim commanders still relied on religious spirit rather than military skill and had neglected to send out spies to scout the land they were invading.
Eastern Roman Soldier

It was not until they reached Maan that they found out there was a large force of Romans gathered to meet them. A halt was called and the Muslim leaders spent two days arguing whether to advance or retreat. The deciding voice came from an early convert who demanded "Victory or martyrdom and paradise." The order was given to advance.

The Muslim army move north with the rocky hills of Moab on their left. When they crossed the lower foothills of the mountains the Muslims suddenly found themselves in the presence of a Roman army several times larger that their own, perhaps about 10,000 men.

A majority of the Roman force appears to have been made up of Christian Arab allies of the Empire. Some proportion of the army (how much?) was reinforced by regular Roman troops, perhaps from a local garrison.

It is likely that the Roman commander was Theodore, the brother or half brother of the Emperor. Theodore had extensive experience as a Kouropalates and leading general in the Persian wars. An army this large would have required a senior office such as Theodore.

There is a small plain near the village of Mota. It was decided to give battle there.

Zeid ibn Haritha seized the white banner given to him by Mohammad.  He then a wild charge of his men into Roman ranks until he fell transfixed by their spears. Another Muslim grabbed the banner from the dying Zeid, raised it aloft and cried "Paradise! Paradise!" until he was killed by a Roman soldier.

Fighting in the ranks new Muslim convert Khalid ibn al-Walid came to the rescue at this point.  Perhaps a little less anxious for Paradise, he assumed control. The white banner was planted in the ground and the disorganized, battered Muslims gathered to that point. Under Khalid's leadership they retired methodically from the battlefield.

Khalid continued to engage the Romans in skirmishes, but he avoided a pitched battle. One night Khalid completely changed his troop positions. The rearguard was given new banners to give the impression that reinforcements had arrived from Medina.

On another night he had his cavalry retreat behind a hill hiding their movements. He then had the cavalry return during the day when the battle resumed raising as much dust as possible to give the impression of fresh troops arriving.

Information on the battle is minimal. Still we can read between the lines. The Arabs were mauled, but retreated in an orderly manner. On the other side, the Romans did not just call it a day and go home. They continued aggressive contact with the Muslims over several days.

Casualties are unknown, but this first contact was a solid Roman victory.

Aftermath

When the defeated Muslims approached Medina, Mohammad and the people went out to meet them. The citizens began to throw dirt on the defeated soldiers crying, "You runaways, you fled in the way of God."  Mohammad said they were not runaways but could fight again for the cause.

In spite of the disaster at Mota, throughout the rest of 629 many Bedouin tribes sent deputations to Mohammad seeking friendship and alliance.

Mohammad sent a force to the Roman province of Palaestina Salutaris
to punish the Christian Arabs who killed Muslim emissaries.

Bedouin, Warriors 1890s

Map from The Great Arab Conquests (1964)
by
Lieutenant-General Sir John Bagot GlubbKCBCMGDSOOBEMC
.
As far as I am concerned Glubb Pasha's book is the Holy Grail on the 
Arab invasions. Glubb was fluent in Arabic and able to read original
documents. In addition he was commander of the British Arab Legion
and personally campaigned on the very ground the Romans and
Muslims fought over.






(John Bagot Glubb)      (Bagot-Glubb)      (Ghassanids)      (Mutah)

(Byzantine-Sasanian War)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Roman Army on the Eastern Front - Provincia Cappadocia


(Roman Empire.net)

Cappadocia
The Front Line Against Persia
Roman Province from 18 AD to the 7th century


The Eastern Front of the Roman Empire was in endless danger of invasion by the Persians.  There were many outposts and strongpoints meant to stop or slow down an invading enemy until reinforcements could arrive.

The front line against Persia was Cappadocia, a province of the Roman Empire in Anatolia, with its capital at Caesarea. It was established in 18 AD by the Emperor Tiberius (ruled 14-37 AD), following the death of Cappadocia's last king, Archelaus.

Cappadocia was an imperial province, meaning that its governor (legatus Augusti) was directly appointed by the emperor.

Bording the Euphrates river to the east, Cappadocia was the most eastern province of the Empire. Its capital, Caesarea, was located in more central Anatolia, further back from the Parthian frontier. Upon annexation, the province was governed by a governor of Equestrian rank with the title Procurator. The Procutors commanded only auxiliary military units and looked to the Senatorial ranked Imperial Legate of Syria for direction.


The 16th Legion was one of
many stationed on the frontier.
The first Cappadocian to be admitted to the Roman Senate was Tiberius Claudius Gordianus, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius during the middle second century AD.

When the emperor Vespasian added Commagene to the Roman empire (72 CE), the upper Euphrates became a frontier zone; across the river were the Oersian Parthian Empire and the buffer state Armenia.

The main road along the Roman border (limes) was from Trapezus on the shores of the Black Sea to Alexandria near IssusSeleucia, and Antioch near the Mediterranean in the south.

The legionary bases in the general area of this highway included the Sixteenth Legion Flavia Firma, Melitene (XII Fulminata), Samosata (VI Ferrata), Zeugma (IIII Scythicaand XV Apollinaris.

The city-fortress of Satala was a main strongpoint because it commanded not only the Euphrates, but also the road from central Anatolia to Armenia.

The province of Cappadocia was ground zero for the endless invasions and counter invasions on the Persian frontier. 

Although warfare between the Romans and the Parthians/Sassanids lasted for seven centuries, the frontier remained largely stable. A game of tug of war ensued: towns, fortifications, and provinces were continually sacked, captured, destroyed, and traded. Neither side had the logistical strength or manpower to maintain such lengthy campaigns far from their borders, and thus neither could advance too far without risking stretching its frontiers too thin. Both sides did make conquests beyond the border, but in time the balance was almost always restored. 

The line of stalemate shifted in the 2nd century AD: it had run along the northern Euphrates; the new line ran east, or later northeast, across Mesopotamia to the northern Tigris. There were also several substantial shifts further north, in Armenia and the Caucasus.


Provincia Cappadocia

The Eastern Empire and Cappadocia

As the 300s progressed the Western Empire was put under more and more pressure by invading barbarians.  That meant the Eastern Empire was acting increasingly in an independent manner until the final break between east and west in 395 AD. 

In the late 330s, the eastern half of the province was split off to form the provinces of Armenia Prima and Armenia Secunda. In 371, emperor Valens split off the south-western region around Tyana, which became Cappadocia Secunda under a praeses, while the remainder became Cappadocia Prima, still under a consularis.

As the re-organization of the province took place, the wars with Persia went on. From the war of Emperor Julian in 363 the Persian conflicts around Cappadocia continued for centuries.
6th Century Roman Soldier

In the period 535-553, under emperor Justinian I, the two provinces were rejoined into a single unit under a proconsul. Throughout late Roman times, the region was subject to raids by the Isaurians, leading to the fortification of local cities. In the early 7th century, the region was briefly captured by the Sassanid Persian Empire.

The Persian Empire was totally crushed in 628 AD. But peace lasted only a short time.  In the 630s and 640s the eruption of the Muslim conquests and repeated raids devastated the region.

The old Roman province of Cappadocia became a frontier zone with the Arabs and dissolved as an administrative unit.

Following the disastrous defeats of the 630 - 640 period, units of the East Roman Army fell back into central Anatolia.  The army of the magister militum per Armeniae (the "Armeniacs") was withdrawn from Syria and settled in the areas of PontusPaphlagonia and Cappadocia, giving its name to the region - the new theme of Armeniac.  The new Anatolic Theme also took over part of the area.

The Ameniac theme's capital was at Amaseia, and it was governed by a stratēgos, who ranked, together with the stratēgoi of the Anatolic and Thracesian themes, in the first tier of stratēgoi, drawing an annual salary of 40 gold pounds. In the 9th century, it fielded some 9,000 men and encompassed 17 fortresses. Its size and strategic importance on the Byzantine Empire's north-eastern frontier with the Muslims made its governor a powerful figure.

After six centuries Cappadocia and it's main enemy Persia were gone. But wars never end. The Eastern Empire simply reorganized the provinces to face their new enemy - Islam.
(radpour.com)
Reconstruction of a Persian Sassanid Cataphract

.
The expense of resources during the centuries of Roman–Persian Wars ultimately proved catastrophic for both empires. The prolonged and escalating warfare of the 6th and 7th centuries left them exhausted and vulnerable in the face of the sudden emergence and expansion of the new Muslim Caliphate, whose forces invaded both empires only a few years after the end of the last Roman–Persian war.


(livius.org)      (Persian Wars)      (Cappadocia)