Most Famous Byzantine Empire Generals

Introduction

The Byzantine army, also known as Eastern Roman Army was the armed forces of Byzantine. It had the same level of discipline as the Roman army. It was considered as one of the strongest armies in the Middle Ages. When the legion system disappeared in the early 7th century, the cavalry arm became popular in the Byzantine Empire.

Various generals rose to lead the armies of the Byzantine Empire during the medieval ages. Many of these generals would also become emperors after attaining significant victories. Some reaped glory by re-conquering the Empire’s western territories while others became popular by defeating key enemies like Goths.

Belisarius

Flavius Belisarius was a military commander in the Byzantine army. He was famous for the reconquest of the Mediterranean territory which had been lost and which belonged to the Western Roman Empire.

He was the military genius who won many wars and played an important role in the battle of Tricamarum forcing the Vandal king to surrender.

He also conquered the Vandal kingdom of North Africa and most of the parts of Italy during the Gothic war. Belisarius fought against many enemies at a time when the Roman Empire was beleaguered on all sides. He fought the Persians, Vandals, Huns and Goths.

Nicephorus Phocas

Nicephorus II Phocas was the Byzantine Emperor from 963 to 969. He contributed in the resurrection of the Byzantine Empire during the 10th century by defeating Muslims and restoring Christianity.

However, in the West, he failed to make gains in Italy when Otto I invaded the city. In the East, he re-conquered the island of Cyprus and the city of Cilicia.

His domestic policies were not successful and because of weak administrative policies, he increased taxes on people to finance the wars. His throne was taken by his nephew, John Tzimiskes who killed Nicephorus in his sleep.

John Tzimiskes

John Tzimiskes was the Byzantine Emperor from December 969 to January 976. During his short reign, he gained many victories and expanded his border to the Danube River in the west and toward Syria in the east.

He was a skilled general and a competent politician. In the North, Rus captured Bulgaria in the north and conquered most of the country by 971 CE. John took his army and captured the city from Rus and named it Iannoupolis (city of John). He died in January 976 because of illness.

John Kourkouas

John Kourkouas was another important general of the Byzantine Empire from 915 to 946. He won many remarkable battles during his reign including the battles against the Muslim states.

He reversed the course of the centuries long Byzantine Arab wars by attacking Muslims for the first time in 200 years. This was the period when the Byzantines had recovered their strength while Caliphate was in turmoil.

The decline of Abbasid Caliphate further revived Byzantine power. In 925, John demanded the payment of tribute from Muslim cities and upon the refusal, led his army across the border.

He concluded treaty by which emir accepted tributary status and captured Melitene. He was killed in a battle in early 1010.

Basil II

Basil II was the Byzantine Emperor for almost 50 years. He was the Byzantine Emperor from 976-1025. He was one of the greatest generals of the Byzantine Empire and because of his glorious victories over the Bulgarians, he was named Bulgar Slayer.

He extended his rule to Bulgaria, Mesopotamia, Georgia, and Armenia. He won victories in Syria and re-conquered Greece. He died on 15th December, 1025 while he was preparing a military expedition to recover the lands of Sicily. He had the longest reign of all Byzantine emperors.

Narses

Narses was one of the great generals in the Byzantine Empire during the Roman reconquest in Justinian’s reign. He was born in 480 and died in 574.

He was an important eunuch in the palace of emperors in Constantinople. He was the body guard of the eunuchs and because of his skillful mind, he was sent to Italy to assist Belisarius.

His greatest achievement was the conquest of the Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy. He was also given charge of the operations against barbarian raiders in 551. Later that year, he headed for Italy with 30,000 troops and defeated Ostrogothic forces.

Roger de Flor

Roger de Flor was an Italian military adventurer and condottiere in Italy and Byzantine Empire. In 1303, he fought against Turks under the command of Andronicus II. He went to Cyprus after rescuing survivors during the siege of Acre by Sultan Al Ashraf Khalil in 1291.

Here he was accused of robbery which resulted in his relegation. He was given the rank of Vice-Admiral because he was the most experienced military commanders of his time. Given the military and political command, he set the army in the east against Ottoman Turks.

He defeated Turks at Germe but his intention was to found the principality of his own which led to his subsequent assassination in April 1305.

Giovanni Giustiniani

Giovanni Giustiniani was the Genoese Captain and a member of the noble families of the Republic of Genoa. He led the army of 700 soldiers, including Greeks and Genoese, to protect Constantinople against the Ottoman army of Sultan Mehmed II in 1453.

He was in command of the land defenses by the emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos of the Byzantine Empire. On May 29, 1453, Giustiniani was wounded by Ottoman cannon while defending the wall. Due to this, the morale of his army went down and Mehmed II took Constantinople from the Byzantine. On June 1, Giustiniani died from his fatal wounds.

George Maniakes

George Maniakes was an important Roman general during the 11th century. He rose to fame during the campaign in 1030-1031 when Eastern Roman Empire was defeated at Aleppo.

One of his greatest achievements was the re-conquest of Sicily from Arabs in 1038. He also captured Edessa from the Seljuk Turks. He revolted against Constantine.

In 1043, his army fought with troops loyal to Constantine near Thessalonika where Maniakes was killed after getting a fatal wound.

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