The Normans in the Armeniakon

Although foreigners had served in the empire’s armed forces since the fourth century, they had ceased from the seventh century to constitute large, permanent units of a distinct ethnic character. Whether or not Basil II was conscious of reverting to late antique practice, his formation of a tagma of Rus soldiers marked a departure from imperial policy of the past three hundred years. The ethnic balance of the Byzantine army was not immediately affected, and Basil’s precedent was not followed until the middle of the century. It is no accident, however, that the emperor who did so, Constantine IX Monomachos, was the first emperor since Basil to face a full-scale military rebellion which nearly cost him his throne. We may note, in passing, that the recruitment of foreigners was not initiated by the inadequacy of native troops, or by an external threat to the empire’s frontiers, but was directly related to the emperor’s inability to trust his leading military commanders.

Constantine Monomachos employed Pecheneg, Turkish and Arab forces, though possibly not on a regular basis. More importantly, however, the regular employment of Frankish – i.e. mainly Norman – mercenaries in the imperial forces dates from his reign.

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(…) the Franks were the first body of foreigners in the eleventh century to be recruited
in this strictly «mercenary» capacity.

(…) The narrative sources describe the Norman presence in terms of «wintering»
or «winter quarters» (παραχειμασία), exactly the same expression which is used of the Rus and the Varangians in other parts of Asia Minor earlier in the eleventh century. It is logical to assume that the arrangement was exactly the same in all cases, and to equate this arrangement with the billeting (mitaton) mentioned in the exemption clauses of imperial privileges issued to monasteries in the mid to late eleventh centuries.

(…) it cannot be assumed that the administrative arrangements remained unchanged during the course of this period of constant evolution in the imperial administration. Nor can it be assumed that all ethnic tagmata were treated in the same way: the Normans, being heavily armed knights, would have required much more substantial facilities and resources than the Varangians, who were footsoldiers. What little we know of the stationing of the Normans in the Aimeniakon suggests that this went beyond mere billeting. Their presence in the area is mentioned in connection with the rebellions of the three most eminent Norman leaders: Hervé Frangopoulos against Michael VI in 1057, Robert Crispin against Romanos IV in 1070, and Roussel of Bailleul against Michael VII in 1073-1076. From these mentions three things are clear.

Firstly, the Normans were established in the area for at least twenty years and probably more than thirty years, given that Hervé is said to have passed into imperial service from that of the rebellious general George Maniakes. If Hervé and his followers were part of the army that Maniakes led against Constantinople in 1043, it is highly likely that they enrolled in the imperial forces immediately after Maniakes’ death at the battle of Ostrovo. In any case, it is reasonable to suppose that they settled in the Aimeniakon under Constantine IX.

Secondly, the three leaders were in effect local magnates; they were «powerful» (dynatoi) in both the economic and the political sense. Hervé had a house in the region called Dagabare; since he had the title of vestes and aspired to the title of magistros, it must have been a sizeable estate. Crispin and Roussel were able to defy the imperial forces from fortresses which they seem to have held before they began their respective rebellions; in other words, the fortresses were held by imperial grant.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that the Normans were deeply unpopular with the locals; on the contrary, when Alexios Komnenos was sent in 1075-1076 to bring Roussel of Bailleul to justice, he encountered a degree of non-cooperation from the people of Amaseia which suggests that although Roussel and his Normans were helping themselves to local resources, they did so no more oppressively than the imperial authorities, and provided better value for money in terms of an effective defence against the Turks.

The Normans were therefore stationed in the Armeniakon long enough to put down strong economic and social roots. From the outset their leaders had «powerful» status in the area, which from 1070, if not earlier, involved the tenure of fortified strongholds, the key assets of public authority. From this it seems to me that they should be viewed in the same context as two other ethnic groups which were settled on imperial territory in the course of the eleventh century. One consisted of the Armenian princes and their followings who gave up their hereditary lordships in Armenia and were compensated by Basil II and Constantine IX with large estates in Cappadocia and other parts of eastern Anatolia. The other group was comprised of the Uz and the Pechenegs who came over to the emperor Constantine X in 1065, receiving land in Thrace and senatorial titles in return for military service as symmachoi.

Again, we cannot assume that the same arrangements applied in both cases, or that the case of the Normans was identical with either. However, one basic point of similarity can be inferred: both the Armenians and the Uz were settled on fiscal land. The estates granted to the Armenians were extensive and valuable. They were largely on territory which had been reconquered from the Arabs in the tenth century and organised into episkepseis and kouratoreiai, that is fiscal domains. Some estates may also have been derived from the domains which Basil II had confiscated from the magnate families of Phokas and Maleinos. In the case of the Uz, we are told explicitly that the land they were given in Thrace was δημοσία; Thrace was an area of extensive fiscal domains. What is interesting is that the emperor provided land rather than money. Presumably, since the beneficiaries were warriors of nomadic origin, they did not farm the land themselves, but received the surplus production of the peasants who did. The land grant therefore seems to have been at the very least a supplement to, and in all probability a substitute for, the cash payments that went with senatorial titles and military service.

(…) In the tenth century, the Armeniakon had been the landed base of two great families, those of Lekapenos and Kourkouas, which ascended the throne in the persons of Romanos I and John I Tzimiskes. Tzimiskes, who probably inherited the local landed interests of both families, demonstrated his attachment to the province by founding at least one monastery near Neokaisareia, by upgrading the church of St Theodore Stratelates at Euchaneia, and by remitting all the taxes of the theme. However, he did not pass on his very considerable fortune to his relatives; in penance, no doubt, for his murder of Nikephoros II, he used the wealth which he had received by imperial gift to endow a new extension to the leper hospital in Constantinople, and he gave away his family estates to the neighbouring peasants. This action, combined with his tax remittance, would have had the effect of greatly strengthening the small landowning element in the Armeniakon. We can be sure that the next emperor, Basil II, encouraged the trend. Possibly, therefore, the Norman mercenaries were concentrated in the Armeniakon because this was predominantly an area of humble taxpayers who could be imposed upon without political repercussions for the government.

(Source: “From Stratiotikon Ktema to Military Pronoia“, by Paul Magdalino. From the edition “Byzantium at war (9th – 12th c.)“, National Hellenic research foundation, Institute for Byzantine research, International Symposium 4)

Research-Selection: Anastasius Philoponus

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