Tagma (military)

The "tagma" ( _el. τάγμα, pl. "tagmata") is a term for a military unit of battalion size. The best-known use of the term however refers to the elite regiments comprising the central imperial army of the middle and late Byzantine Empire.

History and role

In its original sense, the term "tagma" (from the Greek τάσσω, "to set in order") simply referred to an infantry battalion of 200–400 men (also termed "bandon" or "numerus"), as attested in the 6th century "Strategikon" of Emperor Maurice. In this sense, the term continues in use in the modern Greek military ("cf." Greek military ranks).

The "tagmata" of the 8th–10th centuries

In later Byzantine usage, the term came to refer exclusively to the professional, standing troops, garrisoned in and around the capital of Constantinople.J. B. Bury, p. 47] Most of them traced their origins to the Imperial guard units of the later Roman Empire, but by the 7th century, most of these had declined to little more than parade troops. This meant that the emperors were hard put to face the frequent revolts of the new and powerful thematic formations, culminating in the rebellion and usurpation of the throne by the Count of the Opsician theme, Artabasdus, in 741–743. The Opsician theme, the closest of the Asian themes to the capital, had been involved in five revolts since its creation. [Treadgold (1995), p. 28]

After putting down the revolt, Emperor Constantine V therefore reformed the old guard units of Constantinople into the new "tagmata" regiments, which were meant to provide the emperor with a core of professional and loyal troops, [Haldon (1999), p. 78] both as a defense against provincial revolts, and, in Constantine's case, also as a formation devoted to his iconoclastic policies. [Haldon (1984), pp. 228–235] The "tagmata" were exclusively heavy cavalry units,J. B. Bury, p. 48] more mobile than the theme troops, and maintained on a permanent basis. During the defensive phase of the Empire in the 8th and 9th centuries, their role was that of a central reserve, garrisoned in and around the capital, in regions such as Thrace and Bithynia.) They formed the core of the imperial army on campaign, augmented by the provincial levies of thematic troops, who were more concerned with local defense.

In addition, like their Late Roman counterparts, they served as a recruiting and promotion ground for young officers. A career in a "tagma" could lead to a major commands in the provincial thematic armies, or a high court appointment, as promising young men had the opportunity to catch the Emperor's attention. [Haldon (1999), pp. 270–271] Officers in the "tagmata" came primarily either from the relatively well-off urban aristocracy and officialdom, or the landed aristocracy of the Anatolian themes, which increasingly controlled the higher offices of the state. [Haldon (1999), pp. 272–273] Nevertheless, the "tagmata", as indeed military and state service as a whole, offered a degree of upwards social mobility for the lower strata of society. [Haldon (1999), p. 272]

In their heyday in the 9th – early 10th centuries, there were four "tagmata" ("τα δ' τάγματα")::* the "Scholai" (Gr. Σχολαί, "the Schools"), were the most senior unit, the direct successor of the imperial guards established by Constantine the Great. The term "scholarii" (σχολάριοι), although in its stricter sense referring solely to the men of the "Scholai", was also used as a general reference for all common soldiers of the "tagmata".:* the "Exkoubitoi" or "Exkoubitores" (Lat. "Excubiti", Gr. polytonic|Ἐξκούβιτοι, "the Sentinels"), established by Leo I.:* the "Arithmos" (Gr. polytonic|Ἀριθμός, "Number") or "Vigla" (Gr. Βίγλα, from the Latin word for "Watch"), promoted from thematic troops by the Empress Eirene in the 780s, but of far older ancestry, as the archaic names of its ranks indicate. [Haldon (1999), p. 11] The regiment performed special duties on campaign, including guarding the imperial camp, relaying the Emperor's orders, and guarding prisoners of war.J. B. Bury, p. 60] :* the "Hikanatoi" (Gr. polytonic|Ἱκανάτοι, "the Able Ones"), established by Emperor Nicephorus I in 810.

Other units closely related to the "tagmata", and often included among them, were::* the "Noumeroi" (Gr. Νούμεροι, from the Latin "numerus", "number") were a garrison unit for Constantinople, which probably included the "Teichistai" or "tōn Teicheōn" regiment (Gr. των Τειχέων, "of the Walls"), manning the Walls of Constantinople. The unit's origins may lie as far back as the 4th–5th centuries. [J. B. Bury, p. 65] :* the "Optimatoi" (Gr. polytonic|Ὀπτιμάτοι, from Latin "optimates", "the best"), although formerly an elite fighting unit, had by the 8th century been reduced to a support unit, responsible for the mules of the army's baggage train (the "touldon"). [Haldon (1999), p. 158] Unlike the "tagmata", it was garrisoned outside Constantinople and closely associated with its garrison area: the "thema Optimatōn", which lay across Constantinople and comprised northern Bithynia. The commander of the "Optimates" was also the "strategos" of the "thema". [J. B. Bury, p. 66] :* the men of the central imperial fleet (βασιλικόν πλώιμον, "vasilikon plōimon"), are also counted among the "tagmata" in some sources.

In addition, there was also the "Hetaireia" (Gr. polytonic|Ἑταιρεῖα, "Companions"), which comprised the mercenary corps in Imperial service, subdivided in Greater, Middle and Lesser, each commanded by a "Hetaireiarchēs".

Later "tagmata" of the 10th–11th centuries

As the Byzantine Empire embarked on its campaigns of reconquest in the 10th century, the "tagmata" became more active, and were posted often in garrison duties in the provinces or in newly conquered territories. [Haldon (1999), p. 84] In addition to the older units, a number of new and specialized units were formed to meet the demands of this more aggressive style of warfare.Haldon (1999), p. 118] Michael II raised the short-lived "Tessarakontarioi", a special marine unit (named after their high pay of 40 "nomismata"), [Haldon (1999), p. 125] and John I Tzimisces created a heavy cataphract corps called the "Athanatoi" (Gr. Ἀθάνατοι, the "Immortals") after the old Persian unit, which were revived in the mid-11th century by Alexios I Komnenos. Other similar units were the "Stratēlatai", likewise formed by John Tzimisces, the short-lived "Satrapai" and "Megathymoi" or the "Archontopouloi" and "Vestiaritai" of Alexios I. Many of the new "tagmata" were composed of foreigners, such as the "Maniakalatai", formed by George Maniakes from Franks in Italy, or the most famous of all tagmatic units, the 6,000-strong mercenary Varangian Guard (Gr. Τάγμα των Βαραγγίων), established ca. 988 by Emperor Basil II.

By the mid-11th century, with the decline of the part-time thematic armies and the emergence of a large array of permanent units, both indigenous and mercenary, the distinction between "imperial" and provincial forces largely vanished. The term "tagma" ceased to refer exclusively to the imperial guards, and was applied to any permanent formed regiment. After ca. 1050, like the thematic armies, the classical "tagmata" slowly declined, decimated in the military disasters of the latter half of the 11th century. Except for the Varangians, all the older guard units disappear altogether by ca. 1100. [Haldon (1999), p. 120] [Treadgold (1995), p. 117]


There is much debate as to the exact size and composition of the "tagmata", owing to the inaccuracy and ambiguity of the few contemporary sources (military manuals, lists of offices and Arab accounts, primarily from the 9th century) that deal with them.cref|a Our primary sources, the accounts of Arab geographers Ibn Khurdādhbah and Qudāmah are somewhat ambiguous, but they give the overall "tagmata" strength at 24,000. This figure has been seen by many scholars, such as John Bagnell Bury [J. B. Bury, p. 54] and John Haldon, as too high, and revised estimates put the strength of each "tagma" at 1,000–1,500 men. [Haldon (1999), p. 103] Others, like Warren Treadgold and (in part) Friedhelm Winkelmann, accept these numbers, and correlate them with the lists of officers in the "Klētorologion" to reach an average size of 4,000 for each "tagma" (including the "Optimates" and the "Noumeroi", for which it is explicitly stated that they numbered 4,000 each). [Treadgold (1980), pp. 273–277]

The tagmatic units were all organized along similar lines. They were commanded by a "domestikos", except for the "Vigla", which was commanded by a "droungarios", assisted by one or two officers called "topotērētēs" (Gr. τοποτηρητής, lit. "placeholder", "lieutenant"), who each commanded half of the unit. [Treadgold (1995), p. 102] Unlike the thematic units, there were no permanent intermediate command levels ("tourmarchai", "chiliarchoi" or "pentakosiarchai") until Leo VI introduced the droungarios ca. after 902, [Treadgold (1995), p. 105] and the largest subdivision of the "tagmata" was the "bandon" of 200 men, commanded by a "komēs" ("count"), called "skribōn" in the "Excubitores" and "tribounos" ("tribune") in the "Noumeroi" and Walls units. These were divided in 40-strong companies, headed by a "kentarchos" ("centurion"), or "drakonarios" ("draconarius") for the "Excubitores", and "vikarios" ("vicar") for the "Noumeroi" and Walls units. The "Domestikos tōn Scholōn", the head of the Scholae regiment, became gradually more and more important, eventually coming to be the most senior officer of the entire army by the end of the 10th century.

The following table illustrates the structure of the "Scholai" in the 9th century, according to Treadgold: [Treadgold (1995), p. 103]

In addition, there were a "chartoularios" ("secretary") and a "prōtomandatōr" ("head messenger"), as well as 40 standard bearers ("bandophoroi") of various ranks and titles and 40 "mandatores" ("messengers"), for a total unit size of 4,125. On campaign, every tagmatic cavalryman was accompanied by a servant.

ee also

*Byzantine army
*Byzantine battle tactics




*cite book |title=Imperial Administrative System of the Ninth Century |last=Bury |first=John B. |authorlink=J. B. Bury |year=1963 |publisher=Ayer Publishing |isbn=0833704346
*McCotter, Stephen: "Byzantine army", edited by Richard Holmes, published in "The Oxford Companion to Military History." (Oxford University Press, 2001)
*Bartusis, M.C., "The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society 1204-1453" (Philadelphia, 1992).
*cite book |title=Byzantine Praetorians. An Administrative, Institutional and Social Survey of the Opsikion and Tagmata, c. 580-900 |last=Haldon |first=John F. |year=1984 |publisher=R. Habelt |isbn=3774920044
*cite book |title=Warfare, state and society in the Byzantine world, 565-1204 |last=Haldon |first=John F. |year=1999 |publisher=Routledge |isbn=1857284941
*Haldon, John F.: "Strategies of Defence, Problems of Security: the Garrisons of Constantinople in the Middle Byzantine Period", published in "Constantinople and its Hinterland: Papers from the Twenty-Seventh Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Oxford, April 1993", edited by Cyril Mango and Gilbert Dagron (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1995)
*cite book |title=Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081 |last=Treadgold |first=Warren T. |year=1995 |publisher=Stanford University Press |isbn=0804731632
*Treadgold, Warren T.: Notes on the Numbers and Organisation of the Ninth-Century Byzantine Army, published in "Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies" 21 (Oxford, 1980)
*Treadgold, Warren T.: "The Struggle for Survival", edited by Cyril Mango, published in "The Oxford History of Byzantium." (Oxford University Press, 2002)

External links

* [http://byzantium.seashell.net.nz/articlemain.php?artid=mtp_military Explore Byzantium]

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