Infantry versus Cavalry: The Byzantine Response
By Eric McGreer
Revue des études byzantines, Vol. 46:1 (1988)
Abstract: This article reviews the battle tactics prescribed by the author of the Praecepta Militaria (ca. 965) for the use of infantry facing cavalry. This text and set of tactics were chosen for study because of the light they shed on the author’s efforts to combine the recommendations of earlier military textbooks (especially the Sylloge Tacticorum, ca. 950) with his own expertise in developing and presenting his defensive system. The development of infantry tactics did not end with the Praecepta, however, for the second version of this work included in the Tactica of Nikephoros Ouranos (ca. 1000) shows us that further adjustments were deemed necessary in order to maintain the shifting balance between infantry and cavalry throughout the later tenth century.
Introduction: The Byzantines encountered many different nations on the battlefield during their long history. The surveys of foreign peoples in the military manuals amply illustrate the Byzantines’ readiness not only to analyze the tactics and characteristics of their enemies, but also even to learn from them when necessary. Their recognition of the need to study and to adapt themselves to the unfamiliar methods of warfare practised by their enemies pays witness to the intellectual and practical character of the Byzantine approach to war.
The recorded observation of enemy skills and tactics was a feature which the Byzantines added to the long tradition of military science inherited from classical Antiquity. The study of war was energetically renewed in tenth-century Byzantium, as the number of important manuscripts and texts dating from this period clearly demonstrates. This renewal of military science was largely in response to the increasing danger from the Arabs, whom the Byzantines had come to consider their most formidable enemies. It is always a difficult problem to determine what relation there was between traditional theory and contemporary practice in the Byzantine military texts — to what extent did the tenth-century strategists combine theory with practice to create formations and tactics which would be effective against the Arabs?