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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Wednesday 28 December 2016

Byzantine Naval Forces 1261-1461

Part two of Osprey's end of year Balkan spree is Byzantine Naval forces 1261-1461 by Raffaele D'Amato.

After the fall of Constantinople to the army of the Fourth Crusade, the recovering Byzantium recognised the need for a strong naval force. While they relied on allied or mercenary ships, primarily from Genoa, they also created their own forces.

These were built around three regiments.

The Gasmouli lived in and around the City and were of mixed Latin and Greek parentage - the name may actually mean 'bastard'. They were certainly ferocious warriors, described by one western source as 'hungry for carnage and death' - and much more besides! They served as marine soldiers and were lightly armed.

The marine Tzakones were originally recruited from the Peloponnese, specifically ancient Lakonia. They supplemented the Gasmouli as marines.

The third unit were the Prosalentai. These were native Romans, recruited from small peasant freeholders. These were the oarsmen of the fleet and each settlement probably provided a fixed number of men.

The ships of the fleet included Dhroman's with bow turrets for troops. Then Trieres, a three oar-level galley and Moneres, a galley with a single level. These were supplemented by a variety of transport ships and lighter fishing type vessels. The fleet's main base was in the Propontis district of the City. There were also provincial fleets at Thessaloniki, Lemnos, Tenedos and on the Danube. The strength of the fleet varied considerably, but at time of war could be as large as 200 ships.

The author takes us through the limited sources of the period, to describe how the fleet was organised and manned. This includes an overview of the main operations and three representative naval actions. The troops manning the fleet are covered in some detail including their weapons, dress and other equipment. This includes the evidence for the use of Greek fire. Peter Dennis provides the usual high quality colour plates.

With the current wargaming trend towards skirmish games, this book should inspire small scale raiding actions of the period using Lion Rampant or similar. The wicked Venetian's being the main enemy. There are no specific figure ranges that I can find, but Byzantine marines wore a wide variety of helmets and other equipment, so most medieval ranges will provide some suitable figures.

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