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The New Cavalry Formations of the Sylloge Tacticorum, AD 904 by Dr./Prof. Ilkka Syvanne (2008)

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The New Cavalry Formations of the Sylloge Tacticorum, AD 904 by Dr./Prof. Ilkka Syvanne (2008)
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  The New Cavalry Formations of the Sylloge Tacticorum, AD 904 by Dr./Prof. Ilkka Syvanne This article was srcinally published in Saga Newsletter 112 , 2008 (p.36ff.) and then republished in Slingshot   (November-December 2013, pp.7-13). This is the unedited version which includes also the comment added for the Slingshot   at the end of the article. I have added an updated commentary for this which is shown with the bold text and date 2019. I have also corrected some typing errors. The text was one of the results of a project which never came to fruition, namely my project to produce a new edition and This drawing was published for the first time in a presentation that I gave at the McMullen Naval History Symposium, Annapolis 2015. The drawing depicts a cataphract used by  Nikephoros Phokas during his Cretan campaign in 960-961. The paper  presented at the Symposium will be  published as a book chapter.  translation of the Sylloge Tacticorum  together with a military history of Byzantium (East Rome) from the ninth century until the eleventh, which would have been finished by 2010. I buried the project because I got no funding for it. After this, Georgios Chatzelis and Jonathan Harris have produced an excellent translation of the text (A Tenth-Century Byzantine Military Manual: The Sylloge Tacticorum . Routledge London and New York 2017) with comments, and Georgios Chatzelis has produced a separate analysis of the same treatise (Byzantine Military Manuals as Literary Works and Practical Handbooks. The Case of the Tenth-Century Sylloge Tacticorum . Routledge London and New York 2019). Therefore much of the work that I proposed to do over a decade ago has now finally been done, and I recommend both books wholeheartedly regardless of their very forbidding price. I do have some disagreements with the results of both, but this only to be expected when different historians interpret the evidence. For example, I would not have translated the  promachos taxis  as a vanguard (the  prokoursatores  and their defensores were the vanguard), but then again I am myself guilty of similar stuff because my cavalry triangle in this unedited text (based on the Sylloge ) was also changed into wedge by both editors in the editing process because this term is more familiar to most readers, and I would also now use the Greek transliteration rather than the Latin for the text. There are two major disagreements between my view and that of Chatzelis, which concern the authorship of the treatise and the methodology used by him to prove the value of Sylloge Tacticorum  as a source which follows the traditional path set up by the Western Classicists, Byzantinists and Medievalists, namely that most of them feel the very strange necessity to attempt to prove the validity of the military treatises as sources for military history so that they seek to confirm their reliability by comparing these with the narrative histories and chronicles written by non military men. The latter, however, are still considered unreliable with several caveats that are based on a new set of assumptions so that the evidence in these texts for the reliability and practicability of the military manuals is considered suspect, and after this the same material is still used as evidence that the advice in the Sylloge Tacticorum  (and other treatises) was practical and used. Firstly, I accept the attribution of the text and date (Leo VI the Wise in 903-904) at its face value, because this is the least problematic of the alternatives. The denial of this only leads to a set of conjectures which are actually not based on any concrete evidence but on the need to explain why the person does not accept what is in the text itself. The evidence used against this is not convincing nor is it conclusive as I will show. There are several different claims that are used to deny that the book would have been written by Leo VI Wise in 903-904 as the book states. 1) Chatzelis has demonstrated quite well that the srcinal claims against the authorship, namely that it would have been a work which plagiarized earlier texts, are not convincing. Furthermore, he has also demonstrated beyond doubt that the author had to be a man of importance and that it is very likely the author was an emperor and/or team of men working on his behalf. However, he is still reluctant to accept the authorship as it is found in the text but attempts to find another emperor as author. 2) The second of these is that it is assumed that Leo VI cannot have written Sylloge Tacticorum  because it uses the Taktika  of Leo VI as its source and it is here that I disagree with Chatzelis. The assumption is that this would mean that  Sylloge  was written later than the Taktika . This is by no means conclusive. The same author (and I speak also from my own experience) can cross reference one’s own works when the works  have not been published and also after their publication when new editions or versions are produced.  Notably the Sylloge  and Taktika  both include the personal comment of Leo referring to his invention of hand-siphons to shoot Greek Fire (Chatzelis, p.36 after LT 19.64 and ST 53.8), which can be used as evidence of such cross- referencing of one’s own works . The time when the works are published is also not necessarily the same as the order in which the works are written. It is also quite clear that both Sylloge  and Taktika  were works in progress which were also later changed and modified and comments (  scholia ) were also added to the texts at some unknown point in time  –   and I would not preclude the possibility that such comments could also have been added by the author himself just like for example I am in the habit of doing for the purpose of adding these (or for the purpose of changing the content) later to the next editions or versions of the text. 3) The fact that Taktika  and Sylloge represent so different material is also not conclusive in any way or manner especially when it is clear that both books organize their texts in the same manner. It is entirely  possible for a person and Byzantine author to produce two different versions of how the armies are to fight for different purposes. The best evidence for this comes from the pen of Nikephoros Phokas. His  Praecepta  Militaria  and  De Velitatione  represent two very different ways of fighting, a difference which is also quite obvious in the Taktika  and Sylloge . For example it is clear that the cavalry formation in the  Praecepta  follows the same pattern as can be found in the Sylloge , and the same is also true of its hollow square array used by infantry which is similarly indebted to the Sylloge . In contrast, the cavalry and infantry battle formations in the  De Velitatione  are entirely different and in fact are very much closer to the ones found in the Taktika  and Strategikon    –   the actual defensive guerrilla warfare had also its precedents in earlier military treatises even if it is clear that the  De Velitatione  elaborated the details on the basis of practical period experiences. Therefore it is clear that two very different combat methods could co-exist and that separate military treatises could be produced for the armed forces for practical use. 4) Leo VI refers to a separate work on tactics in his Taktika   (2.33, p.37 in Dennis’ edition), which Dennis thought must mean the Sylloge Tacticorum . I agree with his view, but Chatzelis (p.40) like all those who do not accept the authorship of Leo, are forced to attempt to explain this away by stating that this could refer to an unknown work of Leo Katakylas who wrote a military treatise at the request of Leo VI. This fails to take into account the wording of Leo in the Taktika  which stated (tr. by Dennis, p.37 with my comments with Italics inside parentheses ): “And so, O general… For questions <that may arise> you can obta in for yourself further and sufficient help both from the precepts that we have set out individually in the present compilation [ this is the Taktika ] and from those that we have collected in greater detail in the corresponding single volume of the Tactics [ This is the Sylloge Tacticorum. However, it is likely that this book was also a work in  progress so that the form in which it was at the time Leo referred to it was not the same as we have it now because it is clear that its cross-references in the current version are not in the right places .].” This refers in no uncertain terms to a book written by Leo VI Wise! However, it is by no means impossible that he could have used the manual commissioned from Leo Katakylas as his source for this treatise. In fact, this is very likely because Leo VI ( Taktika  19.1) also employed the services of his naval commanders for the section devoted to naval warfare because he did not find suitable material from the older tactical handbooks. In  short, it is quite clear that the text in the Taktika  refers to the separate tactical work called Sylloge Tacticorum  as Dennis conjectures. 5) The fact that the Sylloge adds the  peltastai  as a third category with the  psiloi and hoplitai  while the  peltasts are included among the light-armed in the Taktika  of Leo is once again not conclusive evidence that the texts cannot have been written by the same author. This division was ancient one and not really an innovation from the reign of Romanus I as claimed by Chatzelis (p.43). Most importantly, it is not impossible for the same person to present several different versions of the same topic. 6) The absence of the so-called  Arabitai  (first mentioned in the sources in 902), and laisai  (first used by the Bulgarians against the Romans during the reign of Leo VI, and then mentioned for the first time in the treatises of Heron of Byzantium and  Parangelmata Poliorketika ) from the Sylloge Tacticorum  actually enforce the likelihood that the text was written under Leo unlike Chatzelis claims (42ff.). 7) The facts that the Sylloge contains the term allagion/allagia  and states that komes  could command as few as 50 men which are not found in the Taktika  are once again not conclusive (see Chatzelis, 47). As stated above, an author can include different material and terms in different texts  –   once again good examples of this are the works of Nikephoros Phokas. 8) Chatzelis (56ff.) claims that the style of writing and sources of the ST are so different from the LT that Leo VI cannot have been its commissioner or author. This fails to take into account the fact that both works are credited to the same person, and that the writing style of the person changes with time, and that the difference could also be the result of the commissioner using different persons for the writing of the text, and the fact that it is possible for the person to use different sources for the different works, and finally that the sources used for the writing also influence the writing style of the author or authors. 9) It is a modern and quite often a false assumption that the tactics change only gradually through time, which does not take into account the fact that all military reforms need to be put into effect by those with authority to do so and that such reforms could also take place very fast even in antiquity. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that Leo could not have instituted reforms of his own. The best example of the reforming of the military system is probably the creation of the so-called Macedonian phalanx by Philip which was then modified by his son Alexander during the conquest of Persia. For the latter seem my comments on this website. Sometimes the military tactics, strategy and organization can be changed with a very sudden reform instituted by the ruler in a very short period of time (see e.g. my analysis of the reigns of Caracalla and Gallienus in my biographies of these rulers, or the overhaul of the Roman strategy by Constantine the Great in my  Military History of Late Rome Vol.1), and this is actually what Leo VI the Wise was doing with his Taktika  (note the writing of the new naval treatise and hand-siphons) and with his Sylloge . The latter represented the reform of combat tactics, while the former codified the older standard methods with the addition of some newer elements with a separate referral to read also the Sylloge Tacticorum  at 2.33  –   i.e. these are comparable with the works of Nikephoros Phokas. However, we should not think that the Sylloge  would have introduced entirely new never before seen combat methods. The hollow infantry square was an ancient invention (see e.g. my article dealing with Germanicus with Syvänne, 2004, and Syvanne Caracalla  and  Military History of Late Rome vol.2 ) which was just reintroduced as a new standard combat method for use in offensive war as can be seen also from the  later texts of Nikephoros Phokas,  De re militari , and Ouranos. The  menavlatoi  posted in front of the infantry square to break up the charge of the enemy cataphracts were also not quite as new as a concept as usually claimed because Arrian (11) and Aelian (Devine ed. 47.1-5) both refer to the use of the infantry wedge to  break up the cavalry charge as I have already discussed before (Syvänne,  Age of Hippotoxotai  2004, p.190; Syvanne, Caracalla , pp. 286-7, 306). The same is also true of the use of the massive cavalry wedge of cataphracts, because it is very likely that this massive cavalry wedge of cataphracts was already in use during the fourth century and it is unlikely to be a coincidence that we find this same array also in Aelian’s grand tactical combat diagrams (e.g. in Codex Burnley) which clearly refer to an existence of massive cavalry wedges that needed to be countered with the antistomos difalangia  array (Syvanne,  Military History of Late  Rome Vol.1 , 246ff.). The first treatise (that I know of but there may be others) that may specifically mention numbers for the massive cavalry wedge is the so-called Coisliniana Manuscript   which contains a military treatise called  Definitiones  which dates from the period ca. 120-240 AD according to Dain (1967, 332, 338). This text is also known as  Lexicon militare , and which is the same text as the later  Hermeneia  dating from the period before the sixth century. The Coisliniana text includes confused referrals to the combat units of elephants, other military units and chilia  and delta (p.513) after the text which is accepted as the  Definitiones  (pp.505-513) and just before a list of military instruments/weapons/equipment (pp.513-4). I leave out the units of elephants and the list of military instruments and include only the rest. After the units of elephants, the text lists the military units which are: oulamos  (400 men), lochos  (500 men),  falags/   phalanx (120),  six/stix  (140),  pyrgus  (360), nekas  (1,200), and moira  (2,400). After this, follows the chilia  and  delta  which are confused with the inclusion of mathematical formulae including the figure pi in these. However, these still appear to have meant actual combat formations (probably cavalry ones at that) in which the 1,000 men chilia  was actually an oblong array 100 men wide and ten deep, while the delta was the wedge array which had 1666 men if my assumptions regarding it are correct. After this, follows the list of military equipment. This question (namely the referrals to chilia and delta) and their source, however, needs further research, and I leave the making of conclusions to a later date. The point here is that the massive cavalry wedge can already be found in one of the diagrams of Aelian and was therefore not a new invention when Leo VI the Wise included it in his Sylloge Tacticorum . Secondly, I find it very strange that there is a need to prove the validity of military treatises as evidence for the period military methods by comparing these with the chronicles and histories written by non military men. The case is even stranger for the Sylloge Tacticorum  because it has long been recognized that it was used as a source by Nikephoros Phokas for his  Praecepta Militaria  and that the arrays represented in the Sylloge  were further modified in the course of the 10 th  century as can be witnessed from the later military manuals. It represents a midway between the Strategikon  and Leo ’ s Taktika , and the texts of Phokas and Ouranos. It is therefore quite clear that it reflected combat methods in use. The military treatises are actually our best pieces of evidence for the ancient and medieval military methods, which stayed relevant until the advent of gunpowder or even longer up to the 19 th  century when we find the armies still deployed as lines and columns and hollow squares. It is the other way around. The reliability of narrative histories and chronicles should be set up against the lens what is known from the military treatises which represent the
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