Salmon, The Byzantine Science of Warfare: From Treatises to Battlefield
Annotation author: Schoneveld, Katharina
Book author: Salmon, Thomas

Salmon, Thomas. The Byzantine Science of Warfare. From Treatises to Battlefield, in: A Companion to Byzantine Science, hg. von Stavros Lazaris (Brill’s Companion to the Byzantine World 6), Leiden / Boston 2020, 429-463.

This chapter which features in A Companion to Byzantine Science (ed. Stavros Lazaris), a companion that includes chapters on many important sciences such as mathematics, medicine, geography, astronomy, and the respective roles they played in Byzantine culture, deals with the science of warfare. Thomas Salmon, a young specialist in Byzantine warfare working at the Sorbonne in Paris, starts with a quote by Vegetius about the importance of scientific knowledge of warfare for courage in battle, which shows that such a science was an essential part of the late Roman and Byzantine cultures of war . Throughout the centuries, Byzantine authors composed many treatises that dealt with the science or art of warfare. These military treatises played an important role in transmitting knowledge on warfare.

Within this chapter, Thomas Salmon aims at providing an overview on the characterizing features of the Byzantine science of warfare. He divides his analysis into two parts. One focuses on the science of siege warfare which Salmon describes as an ancient heritage. The other part of the chapter deals with weaponry and other equipment and the science of their use.

In the first part, Salmon discusses treatises on siege warfare such as the Parangelmata Poliorcetica by the so-called Heron of Byzantium and the anonymous work De obsidione toleranda, both of them dating into the 10th century. In this context, he also shortly mentions the illustrations which accompanied Byzantine copies of ancient technical treatises. Furthermore, he describes the use of siege artillery in Byzantium as well as other techniques, mostly by referring to textual sources which mention the use of such siege techniques.

The second part focuses on tactical treatises such as the Taktika by Leo VI which dates to the end of the 9th century, and then goes on to discuss weaponry and military equipment such as armor, the prescribed use of lances, bows and swords. It also offers some information on the Byzantine cavalry and equipment specifically used for riding such as saddles and stirrups.

According to Thomas Salmon, the Byzantine science of warfare as transmitted through military treatises shows their development and improvement in military affairs and shows how the Byzantine military was able to adapt to new threats and situations. He ends with the statement that, however, the science of warfare alone was not enough to compensate for Byzantine weaknesses on the battlefield, and  points towards the eventual fall of the Byzantine Empire.

The article provides a vast overview on many important aspects of the Byzantine culture of warfare. It points towards many relevant sources, especially military manuals, and gives some insight into Byzantine military technology and equipment. It is a goodread for anyone who wants to study such aspects of the Byzantine culture of war.