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Medieval warfare Vol II- 6 - Frustrating the Fatimids

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Medieval Warfare II.6, 2012 Theme: Frustrating the Fatimids: Basil ll and the conquest of... mehr
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Medieval Warfare II.6, 2012

Theme: Frustrating the Fatimids: Basil ll and the conquest of Syria

Introduction: Andrei Pogacias, 'The warrior emperor - The rule of Basil II'.

Basil II was the son of the Emperor Romanos II, of the Macedonian dynasty, and was one of several emperors to hold the title Porphyrogenitus - 'Born in the Purple'. Born in 958, he occupied the throne in Constantinople from 10 January 976 until his death on 15 December 1025.

Theme: Jacopo Franceschini, 'From Ifriqiya to the walls of Aleppo - The Fatimids'. Illustrated by Carlos Garcia and Pablo Outeiral.

The primary threat on the Eastern frontier of the Byzantine empire during the second half of the tenth century were the Fatimids, the Islamic dynasty which, by the end of that century, was at its peak of military expansion, dominating the area from the Maghreb (North Africa) to Damascus. The symbol and (often) object of the dispute between the Byzantine empire and the Fatimid caliphate was the city of Aleppo, called the 'Gate of Iraq' because of its strategic position, vital for both the Byzantines and the Fatimids.

Theme: Murray Dahm, 'The Taktika of Nikephoros Ouranos - The last in a long line'.

The tradition of writing didactic military handbooks stretched back to the fourth century BC; some even considered that it began with Homer. This heritage of military handbooks was a constant source of 'new' works; often a reshaping of earlier material that, none the less, was considered relevant to contemporary warfare over a vast period of time. The Taktika of Nikephoros Ouranos, written in the early eleventh century, stands as the last work in this unbroken tradition. More than that, Nikephoros' possible importance to this period of warfare is often neglected or overlooked.

Theme: Sidney E. Dean, 'Elite foreign soldiers of Byzantium and the Fatimids - Varangian Guard and Mamluks'.

One factor shared by the Byzantine Empire and the various Islamic regimes of the Middle East was their penchant for foreign soldiers. Among the most elite - and famous - of these foreign forces during the time of Basil II were Byzantium's Varangian Guard and the Fatimids' Mamluks.

Theme: Raffaele d'Amato, 'The armour and equipment of the Kataphraktoi - The Roman tank of the eleventh century'. Illustrated by Graham Sumner.

Our knowledge of the weapons and military equipment used in the Eastern Roman Empire, previously based mainly on depictions on frescoes and in textual and pictorial sources, is now corroborated by new artefacts discovered in the former Empire's lands. New finds from Bulgaria and Macedonia in particular now shed light on the equipment of the heavy cavalrymen - the Kataphraktoi of the imperial army.

Theme: Vassilis Pergalias, 'Shock and awe against the Fatimids - Forced march through Anatolia'.
Illustrated by Johnny Shumate.

The Fatimid light scouting cavalry detachment that had camped two miles west of the besieged city of Aleppo woke up in a perplexed state. The arid plain stretching in front of them had flooded with a myriad of mounted soldiers and an astonishing number of mules. To their unsettled dismay, the most keen-sighted of the scouts could vaguely distinguish the feared banners of the Roman army fluttering throughout this massed array of men and beasts. To his horror, one of the scouts even noticed the imperial banner signifying the presence of the Roman Basileus himself. How could this be? Their superiors had warned them to probably expect an insignificant relief force, if any, but surely not the whole of the Roman army led by the Emperor. To the frustration of the Fatimids, Basil II had achieved a magnificent if not unique feat in Byzantine military history, by appearing unexpectedly with an army of 40,000 men at the walls of besieged Aleppo.


Special: Brian Burfield, 'A medieval Christmas tale from the Siege of Rouen - They should have meat and drink'.

Christmas can have a strange effect on warfare. Unofficial truces, the exchange of gifts between those who, just the day before, were exchanging artillery shells, plus the joint singing of carols are just some examples of the things that have occurred in past wars. The Christmas cease-fire of 1914 during the First World War is perhaps the most famous of these unofficial truces. There have been others, such as during the American Civil War, when the two sides stopped fighting in some places to peacefully trade coffee and newspapers. These passive Christmases are not only limited to recent history. They have happened during medieval warfare, as well. The Siege of Rouen in the fifteenth century provides us with one of these odd instances when Christmas inspired calm and charity at a time when starvation, death and destruction had ruled for many months.

The Castle: Gareth Williams, 'Surviving the longest siege in British history - "Men of Harlech"'.
Illustrated by Rocio Espin.

The Welsh song Men of Harlech is thought to commemorate and extol the defending garrison who took part in what has been declared as the longest siege in British history: the Siege of Harlech Castle (1461-68). What made the castle so formidable? Was it the defending soldiers who deserve the praise, or was it a matter of architecture and geography? An examination of the castle's design and history may assist us in determining the answer.

The Revolt: Sander Govaerts, 'The use of firearms in a rural revolt - The Companions of the Green Tents'.
Illustrated by Jose Antonio Gutierrez Lopez and Jason Juta.

Death strikes from the hedges. Cursing soldiers and dismounted men-at-arms desperately try to organize themselves under a rain of missiles. They were attacked by fast-moving peasants dressed in green and moving like the wind between the woods and hedges around the road. This is not a scene from a Robin Hood story, but belongs to some rather obscure events that unfolded in the principality of Liège in the 1460s. In the eyes of their opponents, these men were mere peasants, but they didn't quite fit the image of a mob armed with pitchforks, as they carried handgonnes and were capable of defeating their so-called 'professional' heavily-armoured opponents. They called themselves De Gezellen van de Groenen Tenten ('Companions of the Green Tents') and their struggle provides an excellent example of an alternative way to use medieval firearms, as well as focusing our attention on the numerous, but scarcely known, rural revolts of the Middle Ages.

The Warrior: Sean McGlynn, 'Eustace the Monk - Scourge of the seas'.
Illustrated by Jan Pospisil.

Famous medieval military leaders, whether royalty or not, are dominated by generals who earned their reputation on land - men like Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, John Hawkwood, Bertrand de Guesclin, and Henry V. In the maritime sphere, the relatively few famous medieval admirals tend to be based in the Mediterranean (like Roger de Lauria) and they are certainly nowhere near as well known as their army counterparts. Eustace's neglect by historians is a case in point.
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