View Full Version : Byzantium and Strategy

06-01-2007, 12:42 PM
I've been intrigued by how the Byzantines created and sustained their empire, and want to know more about their strategies.

What books would be recommended in this area?


06-01-2007, 01:16 PM
Emperor Maurice's 'Strategikon.' It is a Sun Tzu like document discussing the methods of Byzantine Warfare. I read a copy of it in the Georgetown University Library. I imagine most of the high end University Libraries will have it.

Found a link : http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/strategikon/strategikon.htm

06-01-2007, 01:25 PM
On the Art of War...
The highest principle of the Byzantine art of war, as the Strategikon makes clear, was economy of force. "A ship cannot cross the sea without a helmsman, nor can one defeat an enemy without tactics and strategy. With these and the aid of God it is possible to overcome not only an enemy force of equal strength but even one greatly superior in numbers. For it is not true, as some inexperienced people believe, that wars are decided by courage and numbers of troops, but . . . by tactics and generalship and our concern should be with these rather than [with] wasting our time mobilizing large numbers of troops."(29) The manual likens warfare to hunting: "Wild animals are taken by scouting, by nets, by lying in wait, by stalking, by circling around, and by other such stratagems rather than by sheer force." In waging war, one should do likewise, "whether the enemy be many or few." To try "simply to overpower the enemy in the open, hand to hand and face to face," is a "very risky" enterprise that "can result in serious harm" even if the enemy is defeated. "It is ridiculous to try to gain a victory which is so costly and brings only empty glory."(30) Thus, "a wise commander will not engage the enemy in a pitched battle unless a truly exceptional opportunity presents itself."(31) He will avoid emulating those who "are admired for their brilliant success [but] carry out operations recklessly."(32) He will "watch for the right opportunities and pretexts" and "strike at the enemy before they can get themselves ready."(33)

06-01-2007, 08:01 PM
Thanks - I've just ordered this today, as well as a couple other books on Byzantium. I think there might be some real pearls of wisdom in these books concerning strategy and the Middle East of today.

Merv Benson
06-03-2007, 04:17 PM
Lars Brownworth's lectures on the rulers of the Byzantine empire is excellent. You can listen to them online here (http://www.anders.com/lectures/lars_brownworth/12_byzantine_rulers/).

Mr. Brownworth teaches History at The Stony Brook School on Long Island, New York. His passion for Byzantine history has taken him on travels from the furthest reaches of the Byzantine Empire right into Constantinople, (present day Istanbul) the very heart of Byzantium. He has traveled and studied Byzantine history extensively and produced this lecture series giving us this concise overview.

06-04-2007, 04:23 PM
John Julius Norwich is very good on the Byzantine Empire - very readable history if you want the historical context to the military strategies.

Norwich at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=sr_adv_b/?search-alias=stripbooks&field-keywords=&author=john+julius+Norwich&select-author=field-author-like&title=&select-title=field-title&subject=&select-subject=field-subject&field-publisher=&field-isbn=&node=&field-binding=&field-age=&field-language=&field-dateop=before&field-datemod=0&field-dateyear=2009&chooser-sort=rank%21%2Bsalesrank&mysubmitbutton1.x=25&mysubmitbutton1.y=12)

06-04-2007, 05:35 PM

I saw Norwich's books at the local Borders - they were $50 a piece so I had to pass.

Marv - thanks for the link. Will get around to them in time...

06-04-2007, 06:48 PM
BH Liddel Hart's classic, _Strategy_, is a great introduction by way of a brief study of Belisarious in the introductory chapter.

I would second the Norwich and Strategikon recommendations. I purchased Norwich's volumes one at a time in paperback - that made the cost hurt a little less.