The Non-Existence of the Theme System?

Feb 2017
410
Rock Hill, South Carolina
#1
So I'm basically working on a new paper on the similarities between the so-called "Theme system" and the method of settlement known as hospitalitas outlined by Walter Goffart and Guy Halsall.

Throughout my research, basically what I've found is that the fundamental concept that made the "Theme system" what it was; that is, the granting of stratiotika ktemata, or "military lands" under Constantine VII Porphyrogennitos in his De Administrando, basically never existed before then. The army was basically starting to be paid via direct drafts on taxation as early as the reign of Constantine I, a precedent which bore similarity to the system of hospitalitas (which was originally pioneered by Gaupp in 1844 with the idea that it was based on the 4th/5th century system of billeting soldiers in households, but then reassessed by Goffart in 1980 and then again in 2006 to show that it was actually a system of paying foederati with drafts on taxation of units of notional land assessment, and there was no actual landed settlement involved). Basically, my paper argues that the method of paying the army implemented probably by Constans II from 659-662 was fundamentally the same concept that had already been pioneered for the payment of the comitatenses and limitanei centuries ago, and then further modified for the "settlement" of germanic foederati (basically groups of aristocrats and their personal comitatus (pl.) established as client bureaucracies and client field armies within the western Roman empire). This was then reformed under Nikephoros I in 809 who sort-of-kind-of formalized the system of communal funding of recruits or a recruit's furnishings if they were poor (a system also implemented simultaneously under Charlemagne in 808 as pointed out by Salvatore Cosentino), which also has a precedent in a law passed under Valentinian II in the Codex Theodosianus. Nikephoros I also resettled hereditary military families from Anatolia to the Sklaveniai, but didn't actually tie their hereditary service to the land: it was still tied to the family. Basically what he was trying to do was to create a source of recruits for his Balkans campaign in 811.

So IMO it seems pretty straightforward that basically the Roman army was its own professional fighting force using a set of mobile field armies paid via direct drafts from taxation of notional assements of land, with each army given an "allotment" of Anatolia where those drafts came from (much like soldiers under Constantine I commuted their pay in kind into coinage from "allotted" civilians), which was started for the professional army probably under Constans II, eliminating the annona militaris after the loss of Egypt and the declining situation in North Africa. The actual establishment of a real "Theme system" doesn't even occur until the reign of Constantine VII. And even then, that method of finance didn't apply to every soldier and was only slowly spread across Anatolia over the course of the later 10th century, and was really more akin to the Pronoia system under the Komnenian dynasty.

As for the word Thema itself, this basically coincides with Haldon's idea that it somehow became an alternate term for "field army" (Exercitus or uhh... whatever the greek word is. Some variant of Stratos) which was then applied to regions of taxable land, and the army itself wasn't actually even needed to be billeted in that land or tied to that land at all, it was just the land used to finance it.

So basically all this does is represent a more gradual evolution of the Roman army (or rather its financing) from the 4th through 11th centuries. Thoughts?
 
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Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,366
#2
Not my era of interest but it makes sense to me. I never quite understood how the themes were supposed to work as described being a break from prior Roman practices and in fact the move from themes to actual feudal rule by noble families seems the more novel and direct indication of the decay of Roman Anatolia.
 
Feb 2017
410
Rock Hill, South Carolina
#3
Well there was no actual feudal rule, but the landing of Roman soldiers just seemed like an absurdly abrupt break from the practice of professional army that had been established for so long. I feel like my theory shows a much more gradual transition.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,366
#4
Well there was no actual feudal rule, but the landing of Roman soldiers just seemed like an absurdly abrupt break from the practice of professional army that had been established for so long. I feel like my theory shows a much more gradual transition.
Not direct feudal rule that was basically stateless where a Lord could own fealty to different crowns for different lands but later provincial nobility ruled without much interference from the central government from the admittedly little I have read. Most of my knowledge of the era comes from researching why the naval decline happened and how Italians and other took even the inter coastal trade routes from Roman and Greek merchants.
 
Sep 2017
398
United States
#5
Not direct feudal rule that was basically stateless where a Lord could own fealty to different crowns for different lands but later provincial nobility ruled without much interference from the central government from the admittedly little I have read. Most of my knowledge of the era comes from researching why the naval decline happened and how Italians and other took even the inter coastal trade routes from Roman and Greek merchants.
Ironic, Italians taking from Romans :lol:
 
Dec 2011
1,696
#6
So I'm basically working on a new paper on the similarities between the so-called "Theme system" and the method of settlement known as hospitalitas outlined by Walter Goffart and Guy Halsall.

Throughout my research, basically what I've found is that the fundamental concept that made the "Theme system" what it was; that is, the granting of stratiotika ktemata, or "military lands" under Constantine VII Porphyrogennitos in his De Administrando, basically never existed before then. The army was basically starting to be paid via direct drafts on taxation as early as the reign of Constantine I, a precedent which bore similarity to the system of hospitalitas (which was originally pioneered by Gaupp in 1844 with the idea that it was based on the 4th/5th century system of billeting soldiers in households, but then reassessed by Goffart in 1980 and then again in 2006 to show that it was actually a system of paying foederati with drafts on taxation of units of notional land assessment, and there was no actual landed settlement involved). Basically, my paper argues that the method of paying the army implemented probably by Constans II from 659-662 was fundamentally the same concept that had already been pioneered for the payment of the comitatenses and limitanei centuries ago, and then further modified for the "settlement" of germanic foederati (basically groups of aristocrats and their personal comitatus (pl.) established as client bureaucracies and client field armies within the western Roman empire). This was then reformed under Nikephoros I in 809 who sort-of-kind-of formalized the system of communal funding of recruits or a recruit's furnishings if they were poor (a system also implemented simultaneously under Charlemagne in 808 as pointed out by Salvatore Cosentino), which also has a precedent in a law passed under Valentinian II in the Codex Theodosianus. Nikephoros I also resettled hereditary military families from Anatolia to the Sklaveniai, but didn't actually tie their hereditary service to the land: it was still tied to the family. Basically what he was trying to do was to create a source of recruits for his Balkans campaign in 811.

So IMO it seems pretty straightforward that basically the Roman army was its own professional fighting force using a set of mobile field armies paid via direct drafts from taxation of notional assements of land, with each army given an "allotment" of Anatolia where those drafts came from (much like soldiers under Constantine I commuted their pay in kind into coinage from "allotted" civilians), which was started for the professional army probably under Constans II, eliminating the annona militaris after the loss of Egypt and the declining situation in North Africa. The actual establishment of a real "Theme system" doesn't even occur until the reign of Constantine VII. And even then, that method of finance didn't apply to every soldier and was only slowly spread across Anatolia over the course of the later 10th century, and was really more akin to the Pronoia system under the Komnenian dynasty.

As for the word Thema itself, this basically coincides with Haldon's idea that it somehow became an alternate term for "field army" (Exercitus or uhh... whatever the greek word is. Some variant of Stratos) which was then applied to regions of taxable land, and the army itself wasn't actually even needed to be billeted in that land or tied to that land at all, it was just the land used to finance it.

So basically all this does is represent a more gradual evolution of the Roman army (or rather its financing) from the 4th through 11th centuries. Thoughts?
Are you suggesting then, that the "theme" system was simply a modified version of the provincial system ?

As an observation; I guess we can we can assume there is little linkage between the payment to troops and the evolution to more permanent hiberna. The time frame you are talking about would be a couple of centuries later than the development of more permanent winter encampments, especially in Gaul, that started to take place under Augustus. And I would posit that this change in hiberna begin to appear as a noticeable development under the principate. IOW, the theme system would represent operational areas as opposed to legionary administrative centers which had evolved from traditional winter billeting areas into a type of permanent headquarters.

Of course, as the hiberna encampments took on more permanent billeting quarters and established a "headquarters" type administrative center, the ability to center geographic collection for taxes to pay troops, regular and auxiliaries, would have been easier though.
 
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Dec 2011
1,696
#7
Well there was no actual feudal rule, but the landing of Roman soldiers just seemed like an absurdly abrupt break from the practice of professional army that had been established for so long. I feel like my theory shows a much more gradual transition.
This makes sense given the difficulties in regard to rerouting the bureaucratic functions and logistics involved.

All of these bureaucratic centers were clustered along rivers for supply requirements so tying them to geographical areas would have been a rather capricious assignment to begin with. To be clear, whether we are talking about comitatenses or limitanei the same bureaucratic functionaries would still service both. IOW, the comitatenses would still be attached to a specific and permanent Hibernia.

I am not familiar enough with the subject to really say one way or the other, except that -- given my fairly uninformed knowledge of this particular area-- I had always assumed that the theme system was fairly well established.

Your thesis is interesting though.
 
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Jan 2015
5,030
Ontario, Canada
#8
Not that knowledgeable about the Byzantine period or Late Rome.
I would imagine that your hypothesis is be true. At least in the case of Charlemagne his troops were raised as some sort of quasi-feudal, domestic militia, mercenaries. Contemporary armies in Italy and Asturias were not too different. So the implication is that this was done by necessity. I would not be surprised if they did this in Byzantium as well.
 
Apr 2018
146
Italy
#9
I think the stratiotai were part time soldiers paid only during military campaigns. However the granting of lands was much later. The theme system were inherithed by the limitanei system.
 

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