The Tactics and Strategy of Alexius Comnenus at Calavrytae, 1078

Alexios_I_KomnenosThe Tactics and Strategy of Alexius Comnenus at Calavrytae, 1078

By Norman Tobias

Byzantine Studies / Etudes Byzantines, Vol. 6:1 (1979)

Introduction: The reconstruction of battles in Byzantine history is difficult, for historical information is almost invariably meager.  Adrianople (378), Chalons (450), Daras (530), Taginae (552), and Manzikert (1071) are the best known of the rare exceptions to this rule.  To this list Calavrytae should be added.  It is significant for military history because it provides a glimpse into the state of the ‘Art militaire’ of the empire in the crucial eleventh century and reveals a continuity in the Byzantine art of war that post-dates the collapse of traditional theme system.

In this article, I shall undertake two things.  First, I shall thoroughly analyze the battle for which we have two seperate and detailed accounts.  One is provided by the Alexiad of Princess Anna Comnena, the daughter of Domestic of the Schools, who led the imperial forces.  The other is by the eldest son of the leader of the insurgents, Nicephorus Bryennius, also named Nicephorus Bryennius.  By comparing their two accounts, I hope to present some notion of the strategy and tactics employed by the contestants.  In addition, the tactics of Calavrytae will be compared with the tactics outlined by Leo the Wise (896-911) in his Tactica.  By comparing the empire in its heyday (tenth century) with the eleventh century, one will be able to determine to what degree there was continuity in Byzantine military practice.

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