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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

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

The Byzantine World War

The history of Byzantium attracts a lot of scholars and many books have been published on the military history of the empire. As I have a lot of them, I am only likely to be attracted by a new angle. Nick Holmes has written an interesting history with a focus on the 11th century and the historical treatment of the Emperor Romanus Diogenes.

There is a potted history of the campaigns running up to this period and the Empire’s long decline after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. However, his key argument is that the Battle of Manzikert should not have ended in defeat.

He uses the neglected commentary of Michael Attaleiates (recently translated into English), as evidence that Romanus’ attempt to revive the Byzantine army was a serious undertaking. The more widely read narrative of Michael Psellus should be treated with caution as he was writing for the Doukai, who wished to gloss over their treachery at Manzikert. Although the army at Manzikert wasn’t the deadly fighting machine of tenth-century Byzantium, its newly trained Cappadocian regiments still massed in disciplined ranks that filled their enemies with fear. That was the view of the Seljuk Turk ruler Alp Arslan, who offered peace on the eve of battle.

When comparing Manzikert with Dorylaion, Holmes’ argues that the more successful armies of the First Crusade were united while the Byzantines at Manzikert were divided. Romanus Diogenes was brutally betrayed on the battle-field by Andronicus Doukas in a few minutes that changed the course of history. Had he had the foresight to imprison or exile the Doukai, he could have been the hero who saved Byzantium and changed the course of history.

While the subsequent analysis should have the usual ‘what-ifs’ health warning, he makes a convincing case in rehabilitating Romanus. It is also an engaging read. If you are familiar with the overall story, my advice would be to focus on Part II, The Battle for Byzantium, which was, for me at least, a largely new angle.

A Byzantine cavalry unit of the period from my 28mm collection


  1. Thanks Dave. Like you Byzantium fascinates me not least its apparent mutations over time even though it’s history as a Greek western looking location transcended Macedonian Greek world right through to 1453 by which time a massive amount of Western European history had happened and been forgotten . This longevity is unparalleled and makes Byzantium failures even more stark.

    1. Yes, very true. People forget the lengthy time period and probably focus too much on the failures of later years.

  2. That sounds interesting. Manzikert is definitely one of history's great turning points. Cheers for the review.

    1. Thanks. An interesting battle and, at least for me, a slightly different angle on it.