DBA Resources

Army Notes

Nikephorians

Nikephorian Byzantine (963-1042 AD)
(DBA III/64)

The Nikephorian list covers the Byzantine army from the accession of Nikephorus Phokas (963 AD) until the reign of Konstantinos IX (1042 AD).

Nikephoros Phokas was a Byzantine general from aristocratic Anatolian family who rose to the throne in 963 AD by marrying the widowed Empress Theophano. A successful general (known as the "Pale Death of the Saracens", he launched a campaign of reconquest that lead to the reoccupation of Cilicia, Crete (961 AD), Allepo (962 AD), Cyprus (965 AD) and Antioch (969 AD) (including most of Syria) as well as regions northward up to the Don River. He also financed a successful campaign by the Kievan Russ (Varangians) against the Bulgars. Although an extremely pious Christian, he angered the church and peasantry by restricting the growth of church estates while relaxing restrictions on the growth of aristocratic land ownings. His rule became increasingly arrogant and arbitrary, until he was assassinated (and mutilated) in 969 AD by a group of army officers lead by his wife's lover John (Ioannes) Tzimiskes (who was raised to emperor and then dispatched Theophano to a nunnery).

A Byzantine general of Armenian birth, Tzimiskes reversed Nikephoros' land policies. His first military challenge was to put a check on the ambitions of Svjatoslova, the Prince of Kiev, in Bulgaria. After a military campaign, culminating in a three month seige, the Russ were expelled (971 AD); the survivors being ambushed on the road back to Kiev by the Pecheneg. Tzimiskes then looked south, seizing Damascus and most of Palestine (just short of Jerusalem) until his death in 976 AD.

Only18, Basil II (the Bulgar-Slayer) (a.k.a. Vasileios II Bulgaroktonos) assumed the throne at what was emerging as a difficult time for the Byzantine empire. First of all, he had to survive the claims of Bardas Skleros, the brother-in-law of John Tzimiskes, which caused a civil war that was not resolved until 969 AD. Skleros and another rival returned in 986 and lead a rebellion against Basil that was crushed with the assistance of a contingent of Varangian mercenaries. His throne secure, he then had to contend with pressure from the Seljuk Turks in the east, the Normans on Byzantine's Italian territories, and the Pechenegs and Cumans in the north.

The biggest threat to Byzantine, however, was the growth of a Bulgarian empire under Tsar Samuel with its capital at Ochrid. The Bulgarian empire gradually expanded through the southern Balkans. In 1001 AD, Basil launched a ruthless counteroffensive culminating in a final major victory in 1014 AD, after which Basil blinded and sent home the defeated Bulgarian soldiers. The sight of his mutilated soldiers is said to have caused the Tsar to collapse and die. Thereafter, Basil annexed Bulgaria to the Byzantine empire. This massive territorial expansion marks the "high-water mark" of the middle Byzantine period. Basil focused his energies on organizing the administration of new territories and securing his borders until his death in 1025 AD (at which time he was planning a campaign against the Arabs in Sicily).

Basil died without heir, leaving the empire to his brother Constantine VIII (1025-1028 AD), whose reign was uneventful. At his death, the throne passed to Romanos III Argyros (1028-1034), who had married his 50 year old daughter Zoe. Romanos removed all restrictions on the landowning of the aristocracy but died mysteriously in his bath, after which the Empress Zoe married Michael IV (of Paphlagonia) who reigned from 1034-1041 AD. When the Empress adopted a nephew on the advice of political counselers, Michael had the nephew exiled and sent his Empress to a nunnery, which prompted a political uprising that resulted in Michael being deposed and blinded. After ruling with her sister Theodora for two months, the Empress Zoe (age 64) then married Konstantinos IX Monomachos, who sought to shore up the flagging Byzantine economy by debasing the coinage and ordering a series of military economies, thus bringing this list to a close, although Konstantinos IX continued to rule until 1055 AD, seeing military successes in Sicily and Armenia.

Composition

The Nikephorian list includes the following element types:

3Cv Regular Tagmatic (including General's element) and/or picked thematic kavallarioi regiments, riding unarmored horses in alternating double ranks of lancers and bow; can be depicted in DBA with two lancer (kontos) and one bow figure.
6Kn Heavy kataphraktoi, or cavalry in heavy armor on leather/felt barded horses equiped with lance/bow and heavy iron maces. They charged in deep wedges with lancers on the edges and archers in the center.
2Lh Prokoursatores or Hyperkerastai. Prokoursatores were a small advanced command of mixes lancers and bow. Hyperkerastai were outflankers or flank guards comprised mainly of archers.
8Bw Skoutatoi (kontos-armed pikeman) in mixed formations with archers. Skoutatoi were equipped with textile armor, felt caps and long shields to protect the ranks of archers. The DBA element can be depicted as a front rank of skoutatoi with a rear rank of archers.
2Ps Akontistai (regular psiloi), Russ mercenary javelinmen, or skirmishing archers/slingers. Akontistai were regular troops trained to close the gaps between the skoutatoi blocks. Just for fun, the Nikephorian psiloi can also be depicted as a fire siphoner.
4Bd (opt.) Varangian mercenaries after 988 AD or menavlatoi (soldiers armed with a mace-like polearm used to counter kataphraktoi).

To field this army with all options, you will need 15 medium cavalry with round shield and long lance/kontos (kavallarioi) figures, including a General's element, 6 cataphracts on fully barded horses (kataphraktoi), 2 light horse (can use the same figures as medium cavalry), 16 foot with kontos and 16 Byzantine archers (to create the Skoutatoi elements), 4 Varangian mercenaries or Byzantine menavlatoi, and 2 skirmishers.

Opponents

Early Bulgar (III/14c), Italian Lombards (III/21b), Early Serbian/Croatian (III/26ab), Pecheneg (III/47), Rus (III/48), Tulinid/Iqshidid Egyptian (III/49), Bagratid Armenian (III/50), Normans in Italy (III/51), East Frankish (III/52), Dynastic Bedouin (III/53), Nikephorian Byzantine (III/64), Fatimid Egyptian (III/65), Early Hungarian (III/67a), and Georgian (III/70a).

Miniatures

In 15mm, Essex offers a complete range of Nikephorian Byzantines (BZA21-28) plus other Byzantine ranges that can be scavenged for variety, as well as an all options army pack. Irregular offers figures suitable for 10th Century Byzantines (V20-V33) including Nikephorian kataphractoi and kavalleri. Similarly, Tin Soldier has a Byzantine range geared toward the 10th-11th Century. MiniFigs offers generic Byzantine cavalry and foot as part of its extended Imperial Rome range. Donnington Miniatures Romano-Byzantine range is geared toward the earlier Belisarian period (5th-6th C.) but may offer some options, as well as Old Glory's Belisarian Byzantine range and Museum Miniatures Early Byzantines range. Or you can scavenge from the later Commenon Byzantine range by Gladiator Miniatures. Outland Games is offering generic Byzantines (4th C. through Justinian). In 25mm, Byzantine figures are available from Amazon (QT Miniatures), Essex, Hinchliffe (Ellerburn Armies), Old Glory and Whitecross Games.

Other Resources

For painting guides and other historical detail, see: Byzantine Armies 886-1118 (Men-At-Arms, No 89) by Ian Heath (Osprey, July 1979).

For general historical background relevant to the Nikephorian period:

Byzantium: The Apogee by John Julius Norwich (Knopf, 1992).

Byzantium and Its Army, 284-1081, by Warren Treadgold (Stanford Univ., Dec. 1995)

Byzantine's Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans 900-1204 AD, by Paul Stevenson (Cambridge University, July 2000).

The Byzantine Wars, by John F. Haldon (Tempest Pub., July 2001).

Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to 1204 AD by Henry Maguire, ed. (Dumbarton Oaks, April 1998).

The Days of the Warlords, by Paul A. Blaum (Univ. Press of America, Nov. 1994)(focus on Basil II's defense of his throne against the claims of Bardas Sclerus and Bardas Phocas).

The Making of Byzantium, 600-1025, by Mark Whittow (Univ. of California, July 1996).

Warfare, State And Society In The Byzantine World 565-1204 (Warfare and History Series) by John F. Haldon, (UCL Press, July 1, 1999)

Also see Sowing the Dragon's Teeth: Byzantine Warfare in the 10th Century, by Eric McGrear, (Dumbarton Oaks, 1996), which includes the Praecepta of Nikephoros Phokas and the Taktika of Nikephoros Ouranos (John Tzimiskes).


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Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: March 13, 2002.