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Romano Byzantine Armies 4th-9th Century (Men-at-Arms) Paperback – 25 Sep 1992

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Product details

  • Paperback: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Osprey Publishing (25 Sept. 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1855322242
  • ISBN-13: 978-1855322240
  • Product Dimensions: 18.4 x 0.4 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 51,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

David Nicolle was born in 1944, the son of the illustrator Pat Nicolle. He worked in the BBC Arabic service for a number of years, before going 'back to school', gaining an MA from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and a doctorate from Edinburgh University. He later taught world and Islamic art and architectural history at Yarmuk University, Jordan. He has written many books and articles on medieval and Islamic warfare, and has been a prolific author of Osprey titles for many years. David lives and works in Leicestershire, UK.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JPS TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback
This is another Osprey volume that suffers from having to cover several centuries over 48 pages. It would have made more sense to have the whole period split into two volumes: one covering the East Roman Empire from the 4th to the 7th and a second one to cover the Arab onslaught, how Byzantium survived it and how, slowly, it managed to stem (but not yet turn back) the tide. There would be more than enough material for this and it would have prevented the content from being approximative.

However, the content also includes a number of questionable statements. For instance, it seems rather odd to mention on the very first page that various military reforms carried out in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire from the 4th century onwards were "based upon Hellenistic Greek rather than Roman concepts". This is especially strange since no explanation is provided with regards to these reforms or the concepts that were supposedly underpinning them. As the very next sentence makes clear, it seems rather that the reforms that took place under Anastasios, Justinian and Tiberius and Maurikios were above all about expediency. The Eastern Roman Empire adopted Germanic or Iranian (and Hunnish and Avar) equipment and tactics because these were what it was confronted with (something like "fighting fire with fire") and this is what worked.

Then there is the piece on the separation between themata and tagmata, and the reorganisation of the Empire and its army with the theme system. The explanations provided here, for instance the detailed reasons for these major upheavals, are barely adequate. For instance, it could have been worthwhile to mention that the land on which the thematic soldiers were settled seems to have mostly been crown land belonging to the Emperor.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Baines on 6 May 2008
Format: Paperback
Good illustrations although, typically of McBride, they are rather fantastic and most of the subjects seem to be modelled on Swarzenegger! The main text is very synoptic in the first half and does not go into much more detail in the second, instead elaborating on the ethnic groups recruited by the Byzantines. The book would be more interesting if it included more historical content or at least a chronology. The achievements of Belisarius and Narses are some of the greatest in military history but they are only mentioned in passing, and only in the context of army organisation.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Informative text harmonized with attractive illustrations. 20 Jan. 1999
By Nelson R. Willis - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I bought this one for the same reasons that I bought the title _Late Roman Infantryman_ which is also from Osprey military books, and one which I have also reviewed for Amazon.com. I do a lot of research on the historical origins of Arthurian myths, and books like these cover the right general areas of the world in roughly the right period (see also my review of Osprey's _Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon Wars_).
Osprey books offer a good ballance of text and illustrations to convey information to the reader in a way which is both efficient and entertaining. This is far preferable to books which have either too high a text-to-illustration ratio or too high an illustration-to-text ratio.
My only complaint about these books is that their photographs of period art are printed in black & white, so one often misses some of the spectacular color and detail found in ancient mosaics, frescos, or manuscript illuminations. Printing everything in color would, of course, make these books more expensive, but that might still be worth it depending on how you look at it. Each of these books does, however, feature a series of full color illustrations in the middle. These beautifully portray the appearance and activities of the troops under study.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Decent plates, lousy text 15 Jun. 2004
By Florentius - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book as a supplement to my research on early Byzantine arms and armor. I got it specifically for the color plates in the hopes that they would help me visualize some of the descriptions that I had read in the historical sources. The book was at least somewhat useful from this perspective. The plates are fanciful but well executed. The photos included of Byzantine-era representational art and still-extant fortifications were also a welcome addition.
The actual text of the book was very disappointing. The author seems to have a greater affinity for the Islamo-Arabic and Persian peoples who lived on the frontiers of the empire, and it shows through time and again in the writing. He ascribes practically every Byzantine military accoutrement, weapon, unit organization, and tactic to foreign influence. Perhaps most annoying of all was the short-shrift given to the height of Byzantine military power under the emperor Justinian I. The author races right past this epic period to focus on the Arab invasions and Byzantine dark ages of the 7th and 8th centuries. There is no coverage in the text of Byzantine siege craft and fortification--two areas where the empire excelled.
I think the publisher would have been better served to have an actual Byzantinist write the text rather than someone whose familiarity with the subject seems tangential at best.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Hail Byzantium 23 Sept. 2002
By ignorance is bliss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This volume covers the development of Byzantine military power from the fall of the Western Empire through the revival in the 9th century. Dark days these were, yet the Empire survived for several more centuries. The tactics of the army changed as political upheavals and foreign threats shaped failures and successes. By the 4th century, the professionalism of the Roman soldier had eroded. The heavy infantry legion had given way to small tripwire garrisons ( limitanei ) and the larger field armies ( comitatenses ). The emphasis shifted towards more heavy cavalry, and wholesale recruitment of barbarians
( foederati ), to deal with the more and more numerous incursions by the nomadic peoples moving into the Roman sphere. Though the western Empire fell, the eastern Byzantium held on.
The more mobile enemies in the East influenced Byzantine thinking. Heavier cavalry was fielded, along with a strong line of infantry and an ever increasing number of horse archers. The fifth and sixth centuries saw the reclamation of some territory in the Italian peninsula, as well as islands such as Crete. The fortunes of the empire waned again in the seventh century, with the rapid expansion of the Muslim powers. Byzantium now stood as a Christian bulwark against the Muslim threat. Its influence through trade continued a presence in the Mediterranean after the initial successes of the Muslim Arabs. The Byzantines switched to a system of local armies ( thema ) and central armies based around the capital ( tagmata ). Their presence waned in the West, as locals asserted their independence in the pursuit of their self defence. Military disasters forced the Byzantines to switch tactics again, and by the 9th century the empire was on a roll of counterattacks. They recruited from their neighbors and enemies, especially in terms of light cavalry and infantry. The cautious approach of shadowing enemy forces, and setting up feints and ambushes, foreshadowed the strategies of later Western Medieval armies. Though the Carolingians would rise to power in Western Europe and eventually overshadow the Greeks, to them is owed much in terms of military thinking. David Nicolle's treatment is thorough as always. This Men-at-Arms title is a good introduction into the war machine of Byzantium, a state in perpetually precarious positions. The color plates are beautiful, and the period illustrations good, though often too small to recognize details. As usual, Osprey has failed to deliver a decent map. Nevertheless, a worthwhile addition to the medieval warfare library. I am looking forward to the next two volumes covering Byzantium through the Crusades and final, disastrous fall of Constaninople in 1453.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Great plates and ok content 26 Aug. 2012
By JPS - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is another Osprey volume that suffers from having to cover several centuries over 48 pages. It would have made more sense to have the whole period split into two volumes: one covering the East Roman Empire from the 4th to the 7th and a second one to cover the Arab onslaught, how Byzantium survived it and how, slowly, it managed to stem (but not yet turn back) the tide. There would be more than enough material for this and it would have prevented the content from being approximative.

However, the content also includes a number of questionable statements. For instance, it seems rather odd to mention on the very first page that various military reforms carried out in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire from the 4th century onwards were "based upon Hellenistic Greek rather than Roman concepts". This is especially strange since no explanation is provided with regards to these reforms or the concepts that were supposedly underpinning them. As the very next sentence makes clear, it seems rather that the reforms that took place under Anastasios, Justinian and Tiberius and Maurikios were above all about expediency. The Eastern Roman Empire adopted Germanic or Iranian (and Hunnish and Avar) equipment and tactics because these were what it was confronted with (something like "fighting fire with fire") and this is what worked.

Then there is the piece on the separation between themata and tagmata, and the reorganisation of the Empire and its army with the theme system. The explanations provided here, for instance the detailed reasons for these major upheavals, are barely adequate. For instance, it could have been worthwhile to mention that the land on which the thematic soldiers were settled seems to have mostly been crown land belonging to the Emperor. As the Empire's finance could no longer afford to pay for its soldiers, settling large number of soldiers - or at least giving them the rights to the land's income - on land that belonged to the crown was a neat way of solving the problem.

Another reviewer on Amazon.co.uk has deplored the lack of content. Although there is rarely enough content on Osprey Men-at-Arms series given their size limitations, there is quite a bit here and it mostly good, despite a number of simplifications. One of these is that Heraclius (reigned 610-641) took his Avar foes as a model when he reformed the army. While true, Emperor Maurikios (582-602) had done the same before him and both also took the Sassanid heavy cavalry as a model for their own. A related point is that it rather difficult to know precisely what were the reforms of Heraclius between 610 and 625 since, unlike for his predecessor, there is no military treaty bearing his mark.

The best parts of the book are the illustrations - on fortifications in particular - and the plates. Interestingly, most of them show soldiers and warriors up to the 7th century included. Some of them had been re-used in other Osprey Series, such as the Thracian heavy cavalryman of the Leones Clibanarii (Place C) or the armoured cavalryman of Plate E. The cavalryman of the Imperial Tagmata shown on Plate H is particularly interesting in that he shows Muslim influences.

Not a bad effort altogether, even if the plates are somewhat better than the content, of which there is not enough. After hesitating between three and four stars, I'll finally go for four stars, mostly because of the plates...
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
In agreement with other reviewers; the text is useless, but the drawings are good 7 July 2010
By Kirialax - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
There is very little reason to recommend this book, especially when there are much better ones available. Nicolle tries to sum up far too much information into 36 picture-laden pages, and fails rather miserably. It is not that some of the information is wrong, it is just that 500 years of military history and change cannot be crammed into such a small book. As each section finally seems like it is going to finally say something of real substance, it just ends. He also distorts the record somewhat, as practically every piece of Byzantine military technology and every innovation of the period seems to be coming from the Arabs or Persians, at least according to David Nicolle. Angus McBride's illustrations are fantastic, but many of the other plates aren't all that great. They are frequently black and white, and often very grainy. Considering that many of these mosaics and manuscripts have centuries of deterioration on them already, lousy black and white reproductions do not help. If this books has one redeeming feature, it is Nicolle's description of the theme system. Admittedly, entire books have been written upon the topic, and it is still not all that well understood, but Nicolle seems to recognize this and leaves the reader with the ambiguity that the sources have left us. Considering the quality of the rest of the book, I was not expecting that.

There is no real reason to read this book. You're much better off with Haldon's 'The Byzantine Wars' for a brief (but far more substantial than anything in this book) treatment of the topic, or for a more in-depth understanding from his 'Warfare, State, and Society in the Byzantine World'. Walter Kaegi's 'Byzantium and the Early Islamic Conquests' and 'Byzantine Military Unrest' are also important for this period, and far better than this book. Skip it.
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