A Tenth-Century Byzantine Military Manual: The Sylloge Tacticorum
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The Sylloge Tacticorum is a mid-Byzantine example of the literary genre of military manuals or Taktika which stretches back to antiquity. It was one of a number produced during the tenth century CE, a period when the Byzantine empire enjoyed a large measure of success in its wars against its traditional enemy, the Arabs. Compiled to record and preserve military strategies, know-how, and tactics, the manual discusses a wide variety of matters: battle formations, raids, sieges, ambushes, surprise attacks, the treatment of prisoners of war and defectors, distribution of booty, punishment of military offences, how to mount effective espionage, and how to send and receive envoys. There is even advice on the personal qualities required by generals, on how to neutralize enemy horses, and on how to protect the troops against poisoned food. The work culminates in an account of the stratagems employed by great Greek and Roman military commanders of the past. While, like so much of Byzantine literature, the Sylloge often simply reproduces material found in earlier texts, it also preserves a great deal of information about the military tactics being developed by the Byzantine army during the tenth century. It is the first Byzantine source to record the reappearance of a specialized heavy cavalry (the kataphraktoi) and of a specialized infantry (the menavlatoi) used to repel the attacks of the opposing heavy cavalry. There is also a great deal of information on new infantry and cavalry formations and on the new tactics that required them.
This is the first complete translation of the Sylloge into English. It is accompanied by a glossary of the specialised Greek military vocabulary used in the work and by footnotes which explain obscure references and identify the author’s classical and Byzantine sources. An introduction places the work in its historical and literary context and considers some of the questions that
Table of Contents
List of abbreviations
Conventions used in the translation
Georgios Chatzelis is a PhD student at Royal Holloway University of London, UK.
Jonathan Harris is Professor of the History of Byzantium at Royal Holloway University of London, UK.
"As the first complete English translation of this text, this book is a welcome addition to the canon of accessible medieval Byzantine military manuals ... The book is also a welcome resource in part because the sources of each section are clearly cited and because it is also explained when there is no source or the author of the manual makes an unsubstantiated claim ... What makes this translation especially useful for historians of the tenth century is its status as a record of transitional tactical thought at a time when the Byzantines were adapting strategies in response to raids across territorial boundaries against both the Arabs and the Bulgars. Additionally, because some of the material here is based on a lost source or sources, it presents information and details new to the growing domain of English-language scholarship on Byzantine military manuals ... a pleasure to read."
- Meredith L.D. Riedel, Duke University, USA, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018