The Hetaireia or Hetaeria (Greek: ἑταιρεία) was a term for a corps of bodyguards during the Byzantine Empire. Its name means "the Company", echoing the ancient Macedonian Companion cavalry. The imperial Hetaireia, composed chiefly of foreigners, formed part of the Byzantine imperial guard alongside the tagmata in the 9th–12th centuries. The term however was also applied to the smaller bodyguards of provincial generals (stratēgoi), headed by a count (κόμης τῆς ἑταιρείας komēs tēs hetaireias),[1] and from the 13th century on, it was employed in a generic sense for the armed retinues of magnates, bound by oath to their master.[2]


History and role of the imperial Hetaireia

The exact origin, role and structure of the imperial Hetaireia are unclear. The term first appears in the early 9th century: narrative sources record its existence in 813 as a bodyguard for the emperor on campaign.[3] J. B. Bury theorized that it was the evolution of the earlier Foederati,[4] but this supposition was rejected by John Haldon.[5] The Hetaireia of the middle Byzantine period was divided in several units: three or four according to the sources, distinguished by their epithets and each, at least originally, under is respective Hetaeriarch (ἑταιρειάρχης, hetaireiarchēs).[2]

The senior unit was the "Great Hetaireia" (μεγάλη ἑταιρεία, megalē hetaireia), under the Great Hetaeriarch (megas hetaireiarchēs), who ranked as the senior of the military officials known as stratarchai and was often referred to simply as "the Hetaeriarch" (ὁ ἑταιρειάρχης).[6] It was a very important position in the late 9th and first half of the 10th centuries, as he was in charge of the emperor's security, and was entrusted by the emperor with delicate assignments. It is telling that the future emperor Romanos Lekapenos held this post, and was succeeded by his son Christopher Lekapenos.[2] In the mid-10th century De Ceremoniis, he and his unit are charged with the protection of the emperor's tent on campaign, and with the security of the imperial palace, in close association with the papias of the palace.[7]

The "Middle Hetaireia" (μέση ἑταιρεία, mesē hetaireia) is attested in sources, and the possible existence of a "Lesser Hetaireia" (μικρὰ ἑταιρεία, mikra hetaireia) is implied by the reference to Stylianos Zaoutzes as mikros hetaireiarchēs under Michael III.[8] Alternatively, the unit of the mikros hetaireiarchēs may be identical to the barbarian regiment composed of the two companies of the Chazaroi (Χαζάροι, "Khazars") and the Pharganoi (Greek: Φαργάνοι). In the Escorial Taktikon of ca. 975, it is known as the "Third Hetaireia" (τρίτη ἑταιρεία, tritē hetaireia).[9][10][11] Warren Treadgold estimates the total strength of the imperial Hetaireia in the early 10th century at 1,200 men.[9]

The bulk of the Hetaireia was composed by foreigners (ethnikoi): contemporary accounts list Khazars, Pharganoi, Turks (i.e. Magyars), Franks and Arabs.[12] The term Pharganoi could denote their origin from Central Asia around Fergana, or be a misspelling of Pharangoi, i.e. Varangians.[2] Honorary posts in the Hetaireia however were prestigious appointments, connected to an annual stipend (roga), that could be purchased by native Byzantine officials. A post in the "Great Hetaireia" cost a minimum of 16 litrai of gold,[13] a post in the "Middle Hetaireia" a minimum of ten, and in each of the Chazaroi or Pharganoi a minimum of seven.[7][14]

As the 10th century progressed, a tendency of amalgamation of the various units into a single command becomes evident, as the "Middle Hetaireia" seems to have been placed under the [Great] Hetaeriarch.[8] The importance of the Hetaireia as a bodyguard declined thereafter, but the unit was one of the few to survive in the Komnenian army, being attested well into the reign of Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–1180).[15] Its composition had changed however: in the late 11th century, Nikephoros Bryennios the Younger says that the Hetaireia was "customarily" made up of young Byzantine nobles.[2]

The post of [megas] hetaireiarchēs also survived, detached from its military duties, and remained important: it was held by several influential palace eunuchs in the 11th century, and by second-rank nobles and junior relatives of the imperial family,such as George Palaiologos, in the Komnenian period. In the Palaiologan period, it was held by members of prominent noble families.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Treadgold (1995), pp. 100–105
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kazhdan (1991), p. 925
  3. ^ Oikonomides (2001), p. 12
  4. ^ Bury (1911), pp. 106–107
  5. ^ Haldon (1984), p. 246
  6. ^ Bury (1911), p. 106
  7. ^ a b Bury (1911), p. 108
  8. ^ a b Bury (1911), p. 107
  9. ^ a b Treadgold (1995), pp. 110
  10. ^ Bury (1911), pp. 107–108
  11. ^ Oikonomides (2001), pp. 12, 27
  12. ^ Oikonomides (2001), pp. 20–21
  13. ^ A litra (Latin: libra), more specifically the logarikē or chrysaphikē type, was equivalent to 324 grams. Kazhdan (1991), p. 1238
  14. ^ Oikonomides (2001), pp. 17–18
  15. ^ Magdalino (2002), p. 321


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