Byzantine Guerilla Warfare

Picard

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By AD 641., Roman Empire had lost its easternmost provinces. Income of the empire in the second half of 7th century was only about one-fifth (20%) of what it had been before the Arabic invasions. It has also lost most of its major urban centers, and those that remained would experience the process of reduction in size, population and functions that was also in evidence in the Western Europe. As a result, Empire’s ability to wage war was forever altered. It was forced to move away from open battles and direct contests of strength, and towards guerilla warfare. This accumulated knowledge was preserved in military manuals such as De Velitatione Bellica.

This manual has long been considered an accurate description of how Byzantines fought its Muslim neighbors during the Dark Ages, and possibly even later. It certainly is an accurate description of the “lessons learned”, as they existed in 9th and 10th centuries, question is whether it is applicable to 7th and 80th centuries as well. Evidence does suggest that tactics akin to those in De Velitatione Bellica had been utilized during Byzantine Dark Age.

Vegetian tactics appeared around the time of the siege of Constantinople in 717/8. In the year prior to the siege, orders were given for the population to move into fortresses following the approach of an Arab army. Byzantine forces were ordered to avoid battle, but when they saw that the Arab host has split to raid the countryside, they could not avoid the temptation to attack. In this however they were driven back by Arab ambushes.

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