The Byzantine military was one of the foremost fighting machines for most of the period of Byzantine Empire’s existence. The Empire was economically powerful enough to field a vast host of warriors most of the time and had a highly trained and skilled army.
The Byzantine army was typically divided into multiple specialised units when marching on the battlefield. This gave the leading generals the ability to effectively deploy different kind of troops and battlefield tactics when confronting the enemy.
The Byzantine military, in general, specialised in excellent military tactics and technologies which were vital in putting the Empire’s army ahead of contemporary Europe as well as the invading forces from the East.
Byzantine army fire Trebuchet Skylintzes
The Byzantine army was the backbone of the military superiority of the Empire. This army was divided into various units, each specialising in specific weapons and meant to play a specific role on the battlefield.
The infantry, for instance, was divided into the Skoutatoi and Toxotai. The Skoutatoi were standard infantry troops, well-armoured and supplied with long spears, longswords and shields. The Toxotai stood behind the Skoutatoi and were formidable archers.
The Varangians, were the most formidable and elite troops of the Byzantine Empire and were mostly Viking or Anglo Saxon mercenaries, they were a vital infantry force on the battlefield.
The cavalry was similarly divided into light and heavy cavalry. The Light cavalry was used to engage the enemy in skirmishes or to perform other mobile and quick actions. The Heavy cavalry was the most important part of the Byzantine army and complemented the infantry divisions, also playing a vital part in the decisive moments of a battle.
Given the division of the Byzantine army into multiple specialised units, each unit often carried a variety of weapons meant for different purposes. In all, the use of lances, spears, swords, bows, axes and javelins was common in the Byzantine army.
Lances and spears were used commonly by the mounted cavalry, javelins were utilised as missiles by the light cavalry while swords were used by the heavy cavalry.
Bows formed the primary weapon of the infantry stationed at the back of an infantry unit while axes were the hallmark of the ferocious Varangian Guard. The variety of weapons and their skilled use by specialised units ensured that they were effective on the battlefield.
Byzantine Warfare Tactics
The Byzantines were highly skilled in devising advanced war strategies and tactics, often specific ones for different kinds of foes.
The infantry of the Byzantine army was typically trained to quickly exploit a gap in the enemy ranks opened up by the Byzantine cavalry. The infantry was also used in specialised tactics, for instance as in wedge formation at the centre to break enemy lines.
The cavalry similarly used the tactic of firing arrows on enemy lines and then charging with lances at them as a second row of cavalry supported the charge with another bout of arrows.
Feigned retreat was also a popular cavalry tactic used by the Byzantine army. This was accomplished by firing arrows at enemy’s cavalry and feigning retreat until the enemy cavalry chose to pursue the Byzantine cavalry and was then routed.