Why didn't thematic system appear earlier?

Oct 2011
275
Croatia
#1
I can think of several times when Roman Empire was hard-pressed for troops - Crisis of the Third Century, Migration Period, wars with Persia. So why did Thematic system of military lands only appear in 7th century? Is it because up until 7th century the emperors were more worried about rebellion/usurpation than about foreign invasions? And why didn't system appear in Western Empire in 5th century - was it the same reason, or maybe too much latifundia, or something else?

Thoughts?
 
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botully

Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
3,544
Amelia, Virginia, USA
#2
This is probably the most contentious issue in Byzantine studies. I shall watch thus thread with interest, as we have some posters knowledgeable and current.
 
Likes: songtsen
Nov 2010
7,648
Cornwall
#3
The WRE in the 5th century was rather disjointed, let's say, with large contingents of 'Barbarian' troops. Not to mention rebellions and civil wars and the Vandals causing chaos in the south.

No position to do anything like that. Very very crudely I think that state of affairs originated earlier, due to Romans (which could be in any country by then) buying themselves out of military service. The cash thus raised was used to hire 'barbarians' to fill the spaces (often of course fighting against their relatives, which sounds demotivating.)

Sounds a good plan. Oops, hang on a minute.........................
 
Oct 2011
275
Croatia
#4
The WRE in the 5th century was rather disjointed, let's say, with large contingents of 'Barbarian' troops. Not to mention rebellions and civil wars and the Vandals causing chaos in the south.

No position to do anything like that. Very very crudely I think that state of affairs originated earlier, due to Romans (which could be in any country by then) buying themselves out of military service. The cash thus raised was used to hire 'barbarians' to fill the spaces (often of course fighting against their relatives, which sounds demotivating.)

Sounds a good plan. Oops, hang on a minute.........................
Maybe, but they could have (in theory) created thematic system instead of hiring barbarians. So, what were the reasons they didn't? Were they political, social in nature? And why didn't ERE do something like it earlier?
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
5,050
Canary Islands-Spain
#5
The foundation of the thematic system can be found in the LRE. The seeds were in the split between Limitanei and Comitatenses units

Limitanei were supposed to be border and local troops ready to fight the enemy at any moment. Comitatus (and Praesentalis) troops were centraly controled, both to move faster to endangered areas and to check inner enemies.

Limitanei used to form families and settled in the provinces, while Comitatus were spected to be 100% focused on war effort.

This, of course, comes from earlier, when the Legions settled in new conquered areas.

What the Byzs probably did was legalizing the situation: Thematic army comes from Limitanei troops, while Tagmata units comes (often directly! = Schola) from Comitatus armies. This notion has been challenged for years, but in my opinion, any attempt to explain the development of the thematic system without the limitanei is fruitless. In any case, the trasition is obscure. For example, it is true that most of the army in the 8th century was thematic, thence many more troops aside of the limitanei were diverted from money paid units to land asigned units. On the other hand, limitanei used to enjoy tax free lands, which were also private, while thematic lands were heavily taxed and were allocated imperial lands
 
Oct 2011
275
Croatia
#6
The foundation of the thematic system can be found in the LRE. The seeds were in the split between Limitanei and Comitatenses units

Limitanei were supposed to be border and local troops ready to fight the enemy at any moment. Comitatus (and Praesentalis) troops were centraly controled, both to move faster to endangered areas and to check inner enemies.

Limitanei used to form families and settled in the provinces, while Comitatus were spected to be 100% focused on war effort.

This, of course, comes from earlier, when the Legions settled in new conquered areas.

What the Byzs probably did was legalizing the situation: Thematic army comes from Limitanei troops, while Tagmata units comes (often directly! = Schola) from Comitatus armies. This notion has been challenged for years, but in my opinion, any attempt to explain the development of the thematic system without the limitanei is fruitless. In any case, the trasition is obscure. For example, it is true that most of the army in the 8th century was thematic, thence many more troops aside of the limitanei were diverted from money paid units to land asigned units. On the other hand, limitanei used to enjoy tax free lands, which were also private, while thematic lands were heavily taxed and were allocated imperial lands
From what I have read, that is not correct. While it is true that limitanei troops did often work as farmers - and were indeed soldier-farmers in later times - more or less the entire limitanei system appears to have been wiped out by Arabic invasion. Thematic troops were formed from field armies withdrawn to Anatolia, with each army being assigned an area that was used to support it - these were the first themes. Tagma was only formed later, after several commanders of thematic forces used their commands to become emperors.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,816
Blachernai
#7
From what I have read, that is not correct. While it is true that limitanei troops did often work as farmers - and were indeed soldier-farmers in later times - more or less the entire limitanei system appears to have been wiped out by Arabic invasion. Thematic troops were formed from field armies withdrawn to Anatolia, with each army being assigned an area that was used to support it - these were the first themes. Tagma was only formed later, after several commanders of thematic forces used their commands to become emperors.
This is basically the answer. The themata were not created, they evolved out of the need to supply the field armies in Anatolia following the loss of the east to the Arabs. Since this was a unique set of circumstances there's no reason for it to have taken place in other parts of the empire. We need to divorce the themata from the idea that it was uniquely suited to defence or that it was established with the intention of creating farmer-soldiers.
 
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Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
5,050
Canary Islands-Spain
#8
From what I have read, that is not correct. While it is true that limitanei troops did often work as farmers - and were indeed soldier-farmers in later times - more or less the entire limitanei system appears to have been wiped out by Arabic invasion. Thematic troops were formed from field armies withdrawn to Anatolia, with each army being assigned an area that was used to support it - these were the first themes. Tagma was only formed later, after several commanders of thematic forces used their commands to become emperors.
You're right.

Most probably:

Opsikion = Territory sustaining Emperor's field armies
Armeniakon = Territory sustaining an eastern field army
Anatolian = Territory sustaining old Anatolian field army

Do you think is possible some Limitanei, since early called Akritai on the Greek east, were kept in border areas?
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,816
Blachernai
#9
You're right.

Most probably:

Opsikion = Territory sustaining Emperor's field armies
Armeniakon = Territory sustaining an eastern field army
Anatolian = Territory sustaining old Anatolian field army

Do you think is possible some Limitanei, since early called Akritai on the Greek east, were kept in border areas?
My suspicion is that they would not, although there is really no evidence whatsoever to go on. The government evidently thought the limitanei had value since they reestablished them in Africa. However the frontiers of the 7th century were both ad hoc and viewed by the government as temporary, so I doubt they would establish limitanei on them.

There is simply no evidence for akritai until much later.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2011
275
Croatia
#10
You're right.

Most probably:

Opsikion = Territory sustaining Emperor's field armies
Armeniakon = Territory sustaining an eastern field army
Anatolian = Territory sustaining old Anatolian field army

Do you think is possible some Limitanei, since early called Akritai on the Greek east, were kept in border areas?
No, Akritai were similar in nature to Limitanei (maybe), but I do not think they originated from Limitanei, or were even an official establishment. They seem to be more simlar in nature to Croatian Hajduci and Uskoci.

I think I remember a book which precisely listed which field army was assigned to which theme - I know one of themes in Asia Minor was used to sustain Army of Thrace - but I do not remember which book that is.

This is basically the answer. The themata were not created, they evolved out of the need to supply the field armies in Anatolia following the loss of the east to the Arabs. Since this was a unique set of circumstances there's no reason for it to have taken place in other parts of the empire. We need to divorce the themata from the idea that it was uniquely suited to defence or that it was established with the intention of creating farmer-soldiers.
My question was essentially that Roman Empire had been pushed to defensive much earlier than Arabic invasions, and had been facing crippling military expenditures since 3rd century or so, I think. So why was not something like that done earlier? Is it simply that the scale of the threat was not so great, or that increase was gradual and so there was no shock that would force innovation? Or - as some had argued - Roman Army had maintained an essentially offensive posture until the 7th century?