Why didn't thematic system appear earlier?

Oct 2011
275
Croatia
#11
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?
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.
Found it. It is listed in Treadgold, Byzantium and Its Army pg.74, as well as in Haldon, Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World.
Warfare, State And Society In The Byzantine World 560-1204

Imperial Praesental armies (40 000) - northwest Anatolia and Thrace (Opsikion theme - 34 000)
Army of Orient (20 000) - southern central Asia Minor (Anatolikon theme - 18 000)
Army of Armenia (15 000) - eastern and northern Asia Minor (Armeniakon theme - 14 000)
Army of Thrace (20 000) - central western Anatolia (Thrakesion theme - 8 000)
Army of Illyricum (15 000) - coast and islands of Greece (Carabisian theme - 4 000)
Army of Italy (20 000) - island of Sicily (Sikelas theme - 2 000)

You can find a map of themes here, fan-made apparently but seems correct from what I know:
DeviantArt

So six field armies survived out of total of eight. These surviving armies formed first six themes, four of them in Anatolia, which were later split up (especially the troublesome Anatolikon and Opsikion themes).
 
Last edited:

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,816
Blachernai
#12
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.
That would be the Thrakesion.


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?
I would maintain that the essential posture of the army remained offensive, and field armies were clearly capable of picking themselves up and moving great distances. The eastern armies as late as Justinian seem to have been able to switch immediately from being stationed on the frontier to full campaign mode, and this doesn't seem any different from Roman armies centuries earlier. Perhaps it's more visible in civil wars rather than against outsiders. @DiocletianIsBetterThanYou would be better able to inform you about the posture of the imperial-era army, but I just don't see "not campaigning for territorial gain" as equivalent to a defensive posture.

Found it. It is listed in Treadgold, Byzantium and Its Army pg.74, as well as in Haldon, Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World.
Warfare, State And Society In The Byzantine World 560-1204

Imperial Praesental armies (40 000) - northwest Anatolia and Thrace (Opsikion theme - 34 000)
Army of Orient (20 000) - southern central Asia Minor (Anatolikon theme - 18 000)
Army of Armenia (15 000) - eastern and northern Asia Minor (Armeniakon theme - 14 000)
Army of Thrace (20 000) - central western Anatolia (Thrakesion theme - 8 000)
Army of Illyricum (15 000) - coast and islands of Greece (Carabisian theme - 4 000)
Army of Italy (20 000) - island of Sicily (Sikelas theme - 2 000)
One should be extremely cautious of Treadgold's figures.
 
Oct 2011
275
Croatia
#13
I would maintain that the essential posture of the army remained offensive, and field armies were clearly capable of picking themselves up and moving great distances. The eastern armies as late as Justinian seem to have been able to switch immediately from being stationed on the frontier to full campaign mode, and this doesn't seem any different from Roman armies centuries earlier. Perhaps it's more visible in civil wars rather than against outsiders. @DiocletianIsBetterThanYou would be better able to inform you about the posture of the imperial-era army, but I just don't see "not campaigning for territorial gain" as equivalent to a defensive posture.
That is my thought as well. Which would suggest a degree of ideologically-driven blindness of Roman high command with regards to actual situation is what prevented formation of more effective defensive system... assuming implementing thematic system ever was an option in the West. But I am not certain whether that was the case: it appears that, in the West, full-time army was actually sufficient until well after the political authority disintegrated. On the other hand, that might be too optimistic, seeing how barbarians had no trouble reaching Spain and Italy, which then would suggest that army was not adequate to the task. But West had inferior geography, less unified culture, less money and far more concentrated land ownership in hands of large magnates. It also had disadvantage that its whole army was commanded by a single magister militum, whereas in the East there were five - much greater decentralization, making them less dangerous to political power. Which again points to possibility that thematic system might have saved the West - but also that an overpowerful magister militum as well as too many landed magnates may have prevented any such reforms.

So what in that assessment correct? And even so, why was not thematic system implemented in Balkans once barbarians started arriving (Balkans were part of the Eastern empire)?

I guess, in the end, it may have been just normal human inertia - IIRC, thematic system was only implemented once emperors had absolutely no way of paying for sufficient military force in traditional manner.

One should be extremely cautious of Treadgold's figures.
In this case though Haldon and Treadgold appear to be in agreement.
 
#14
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?
In the mid- and late third century the Roman Empire was certainly suffering from numerous foreign incursions, military defeats, economic woes and frequent usurpations/civil war, and the imperial administration was forced to react, but the solutions taken were different. I don't see the Roman Empire of the third century as a sluggish organism. On the contrary, imperial responses to the third-century troubles, and indeed the empire's survival through that period, is a testament to the empire's tenacity and adaptability. Gallienus introduced his cavalry-heavy mobile reserve, which became the precursor to the Tetrarchic/Constantinian approach whereby every major frontier had a field army present (with the associated rise in provincial emperors serving within an imperial college). The creation of more mobile legionary detachments, vexillations, which had begun in the second century, increased during the third century. More and more troops were trained to fight with close-combat spears to better handle the cavalry armies of the Goths and Persians. Valerian, Gallienus and Aurelian increased the number of imperial mints near frontiers, thus enabling the easier payment of soldiers, and Aurelian made numerous improvements to the imperial roads. Provincial fortifications increased under Diocletian, and he introduced his tax, monetary and price reforms (with some reforms admittedly more successful than others). Aurelian and Constantine too reformed the coinage, and Gallienus, Aurelian, Diocletian and Constantine all contributed to the trend whereby emperors became increasingly shielded (at least in theory) by the aura of ceremonial and pseudo-divinity. By the end of the third century the empire was still in-tact, and while Dacia and the Agri Decumates had been abandoned, territories had been gained in the east. So there were innovations, albeit different innovations.
 
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