The Non-Existence of the Theme System?

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
5,050
Canary Islands-Spain
#11
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?

This is an interesting point of view, and can complement what is known about the evolution of the LRE

However, the basic idea is maybe wrong. The thematic system was more than just a way to pay, without allocation of land. This is against all what we know about the themes and legislation of sucessive emperors to protect small thematic landowners, in order to reinforce the central military against the local landlords.

Also the the clear division of LRE into civil and military administration was blurred after the 7th century, in agreement with the classic theory of thematic organization and the concentration of civil and military power in one official. In this regard, the breaking certainly happened and had to be a sharp one.
 
Feb 2017
426
Rock Hill, South Carolina
#12
The thematic system was more than just a way to pay, without allocation of land. This is against all what we know about the themes and legislation of sucessive emperors to protect small thematic landowners, in order to reinforce the central military against the local landlords.
That's the entire problem - there are no thematic landowners, which is my entire point. There's no evidence for stratiotika ktemata until 935 AD, and that wasn't standardized for the whole army. There's legislation concerning hereditary soldiering families owning land, but not hereditary soldiering land.
 
Oct 2011
275
Croatia
#13
That's the entire problem - there are no thematic landowners, which is my entire point. There's no evidence for stratiotika ktemata until 935 AD, and that wasn't standardized for the whole army. There's legislation concerning hereditary soldiering families owning land, but not hereditary soldiering land.
My understanding always was that thematic soldiers were essentially similar to , yet fundamentally different from, small landowners in the West. Essentially, each thematic soldier would be given land and be supported by finances and labour of several peasant families. Differences from the feudal system are that:
1) these lands were still Emperor's, and not property of soldier who was being supported by them
2) lands were given directly by the Emperor, and not from Emperor to major landowner to medium landowner to soldier as it is in feudal system

So thematic soldiers were not landowners, they were merely given right to support from land. Which is, yes, essentially the same as the pronoia system. EDIT: That being said, I have also come across the idea that this decentralization happened gradually, and originally themes were basically groups of provinces assigned to support each field army. So it would be true that, initially, there were no thematic landowners, but they would gradually appear. Problem is, if that is true, why would themes be badly suited for offensive warfare, which is an idea I had often come across?
 
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botully

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
3,544
Amelia, Virginia, USA
#14
Problem is, if that is true, why would themes be badly suited for offensive warfare, which is an idea I had often come across?
Perhaps it’s just assuming that because the LRE didn’t often engage in offensive warfare, their system wasn’t suited for it, when it may be that they didn’t for other reasons.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,816
Blachernai
#15
Problem is, if that is true, why would themes be badly suited for offensive warfare, which is an idea I had often come across?
Perhaps it’s just assuming that because the LRE didn’t often engage in offensive warfare, their system wasn’t suited for it, when it may be that they didn’t for other reasons.
I suspect that a big part of this comes from the pre-conceptios of the nineteenth-century Russian scholars who first dealt with this topic. They were looking for historical precedents of an orthodox peasantry defending an orthodox monarchy, and they twisted Byzantium to suit those purposes. Offensive campaigning never really stops: in the sixth-century the eastern armies were engaged everywhere from Georgia to the Crimea to Africa to Spain. The re-organized successor of this army in the seventh century never gave the Umayyads a break - Constans II, Constantine IV, and Justinian II all engaged in offensive warfare against the Arabs, and the Umayyads did not build an extensive system of watchtowers stretching from Cilicia to Palestine because those lands were secure. Constans was in the west preparing an invasion of the Levant, and Justinian II was in Armenia in the hope of getting the strategic ground he needed to perform a Herakleios redux. The eighth century sees many offensive campaigns against the Bulgars as well as the creation of a centralized field army. However, that army was not created for the sake of having a campaign force (all the big campaigns had major groups of thematic troops) but to reduce the threat of the thematic generals to the throne.

There's plenty of offensive warfare, but little effort to make substantial territorial gains. I suspect that a big part of this is due to the weakened prestige of the imperial office following the Arab conquests, which manifests itself in Iconoclasm and the two decades of chaos before Leo III takes the throne, all of which makes the sustained expense of capturing territory difficult to do in the long term. Another part is that there are few good places to expand towards - Umayyad and Abbasid resources are vastly greater than Byzantium's, and the rather advanced level of disintegration of Roman institutions and infrastructure in the Balkans mean that any conquests there will involve substantial expenses, not to mention the lack of defensible geographic frontiers would require an active military presence.
 

botully

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
3,544
Amelia, Virginia, USA
#16
I guess “offensive warfare” should have been defined. Is it campaigning beyond recognized borders or attempting conquest, or something else? The Byzantines could certainly raise and provision armies, even muster grand campaigns like the attempts to retake Crete.

Campaigning beyond borders can have a defensive context, and retaking lost territories may not be “conquest”.
The Empire did expand at times, but they don’t seem interested in ruling non Christians, especially non Orthodox.