This is one of several translated excerpts from Byzantine sources produced and mounted with historical introduction and commentary by Paul Stephenson.

Leo VI, Taktika

Before A.D. 900, one finds strikingly little treatment in Greek literature of the Arabs as a fighting force, and no substantial contributions to the corpus of military treatises. Matters change with the Taktika attributed to the emperor Leo VI (886-912). Leo's Taktika updates and expands Maurice's Strategikon. (1) Whereas Maurice's first instructions "On the Day of Battle" are that the general should not "exert himself too much, become worn out and overlook some really essential matters," Leo advises the general to ensure first of all that his whole army is pure (καθαρον) and tohave priests offer fervent prayer through the night. He must ensure "that everyone is purified [or sanctified,(2) αγιασθηναι] by priests, and that they believe completely in words and deed that they have divine help," so that they advance to battle in high spirits. A single military service has survived from this period, but one wonders how many have been lost.(3)

Where Maurice's Strategikon addresses the Persians among other foes, the Taktika has a section devoted to the Arabs (called "Saracens"), addressing their nature and customs and how best to confront them.(4) It presents the clearest evidence that the Byzantines understood Islamic institutions and doctrines and how they underpinned the Arabs' war efforts. Moreover, and exceptionally, the Christian emperor, while offering the usual condemnation of the "barbarous and impious race", recommends that the Byzantines emulate the infidel. For the Arabs, Leo notes, there is no summons: they gather for war voluntarily. Moreover, warfare is a collective effort, whereby all members of society share in the expenses: by supplying the fighting men with arms and equipment, they also share in the rewards of warfare.(5) This passage demonstrates knowledge of Islamic waqf foundations,(6) and perhaps an idealized notion of the efficacy of the thugur and al-awasim, the two-tiered frontier structure on the caliphate's side of the border with Byzantium.(7) It reflects a desire to emulate the developing Arab system to assuage Byzantine problems associated with assembling troops and financing campaigns centrally.

Leo is aware that his foes are offered spiritual rewards for their efforts if they die in battle, but also for supporting those who fight if they are unable to bear arms.(8) Leo calls the reward Muslims receive misthos (μισθος), which can mean wage, but should here be translated more expansively as "the recompense given (mostly by God) for the moral quality of an action."(9) Consequently, it appears to correspond to the Arabic term ajr.(10) Earlier, Leo ordered that the general must be instructed in the correct faith of the Christians, as must his commander and all his men, so that "all who fight through Christ our Lord and on behalf of their families and friends and country and for the whole Christian people will easily overcome the distress of thirst and the lack of food, and of excess cold or heat ... and for their pains they will store up compensations ( μισθον ) from God himself and from his kingdom."(11) Leo goes still further:

If with God's help as an ally, properly armed and arranged, making an assault well and bravely against them, fighting for our spiritual salvation υπερ της ψυχικης ημων σωτηριας ...αγωνιζημενοι) just as for God himself, for our families and for our other Christian brothers, placing hopes unhesitatingly in God, we shall not fail but rather shall triumph completely against them.(12)

The key phrase is "fighting for our spiritual salvation." Contemporary documents record abundant donations to monasteries by those seeking "spiritual salvation."(13) Leo appears consciously to employ the language familiar to Byzantine donors, encouraging them to give not only to secure prayers for victory, but also to secure arms and armor. The benefits of fighting for God will therefore be shared both by those who fight and those who support them. It is striking, of course, that he anticipates that spiritual salvation will be a reward for those who fight, and although here he makes no mention of death or martyrdom, elsewhere Leo decrees that:

It is your duty after the battle, O general, to console those soldiers wounded in it, and to honor those who fell in the battle with burial, and to consider them perpetually blessed (μακαριζειν διηνεκως), since they did not esteem their own lives above their faith and their brothers. This blessed act enhances the zeal of the living. (14)

Those who die in battle should be considered perpetually blessed, makarios, a term used most frequently in patristic writings for martyr.(15)

The prescriptions in Leo VI's Taktika were a logical development of Christian practices, which had developed both before and since the emergence of Islam, but also were a response to a particular set of Muslim doctrines and institutions with which Byzantine society was now confronted. Arabs all shared in the spiritual rewards of fighting the infidel, and Leo desired this for Christians. He wished to ensure that all involved in the struggle with the infidel received spiritual rewards, including those who fell in battle, who were perhaps the most deserving.

A religious service for those killed in war, of the type Leo VI prescribed, has survived from this period. It contains a unique version of the Triodion, the liturgical book for the Easter cycle, which records a service to be performed on Meat-fare Saturday, the first of five All Souls Saturdays during Lent.(16)

Basic bibliography: editions

The Taktika of Leo VI, ed. G. Dennis, CFHB 49 (Washington, D.C., 2010). This is a new critical edition and translation, and we await a full commentary by J. Haldon. A second English translation, with commentary, is promised by F. Trombley.

An earlier edition, the version cited before 2010, is J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae cursus completus, Series graeca 107 [=PG 107], cols. 671-1094.

R, Vári, Leonis imperatoris Tactica, 2 vols. (Budapest: Typis Regiae Universitatis Scientiarum Budapestinensis, 1917-22), which covers only books I-XIV.


Secondary Literature

Several closely related textual studies were published by V. V. Kuchma, "Taktika L’va v istoricheskoi literature," Vizantiiskii Vremennik 30 (1969): 153-66; "Taktika L’va kak istoricheskii istochnik," Vizantiiskii Vremennik 33 (1972): 75-87; "Iz istorii vizantiiskogo voennogo isskustva na rubezhe IX-X v," Vizantiiskii Vremennik 38 (1977): 94-101.

For additional works see notes below.


(1) Cf. Maurice, Strategikon, trans. Dennis, 69.

(2) W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1957), 8-9. Since precise translations are here vital, I shall refer to the dictionary I have employed.

(3) A. Pertusi, “Una acolouthia militare inedita del X secolo,” Aevum 22 (1948):145-68, which has been dated to the reign of Leo VI (886-912), but it could as easily be from the joint reign of Constantine VII (945-59) and his son Romanos II. See also Kolia-Dermitzaki, O vizantinos «ieros polemos», 252-60.

(4) G. Dagron, "Ceux d'en face. Les peuples étrangers dans les traités militaires byzantins," Travaux et Mémoires 10 (1987): 207-32; G. Dagron, "Apprivoiser la guerre: Byzantins et Arabs ennemis intimes," in K. Tsiknakis, ed., To Empolemo Vyzantio (9os-120s ai.) / Byzantium at War, 9th - 12th c. (Athens: Goulandri Horn, 1997), 37-49.

(5) G. Dagron, "Byzance et le modèle islamique au Xe siècle, à propos des Constitutions tactiques de l’empereur Léon VI," Comptes rendus des séances de l’année de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (Paris, 1983): 219-43, at 224. See also T. G. Kolias, "The Taktika of Leo VI and the Arabs," Graeco-Arabica 3 (1984): 129-35; G. Michaelides-Nouaros, "O dikaios polemos kata ta Taktika tou Leontos tou Sophou," in Mélanges Séfériadès / Symmikta Seferiadou (Athens: Ecole des Sciences Politiques Panteios, 1961), 411-34.

(6) Inalienable religious endowments for charitable purposes, here for supporting the jihad. See C. Cahen, "Réflexions sur le waqf ancien," Studia Islamica 14 (1961): 37-56; M. Gil, "The earliest waqf foundations," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 57 (1998): 125-40; H. Kennedy, "The financing of the military in the early Islamic state," in A. Cameron, ed., The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, III: States, Resources and Armies (Princeton: Darwin, 1995), 361-78.

(7) M. Bonner, "The Naming of the Frontier: Awasim, Thughur and the Arab Geographers," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 57 (1994): 17-24; M. Bonner, Aristocratic Violence and Holy War. Studies in the Jihad and the Arab-Byzantine Frontier (New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1996), 43-106.

(8) ed. Dennis, 482-3(=XVIII.122); PG 107: 976 (=XVIII.128).

(9) Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 525.

(10) Bonner, Aristocratic Violence, 8, 41-2, 122-5

(11) ed. Dennis, 444-5; PG 107: 949 (=XVIII.19)

(12) ed. Dennis, 484-5 (=XVIII.127); PG 107: 977 (=XVIII.133).

(13) Hundreds of examples turn up in a Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) search.

(14) ed. Dennis, 306-7 (= XIV.31); PG 107: 859-60 (=XIV.35); Dagron, “Byzance et le modèle islamique,” 230-1. Here αδελφων clearly mean "[Christian] brothers-in-arms," whereas elsewhere it refers more generally to other Christians.

(15) Arndt and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 487-8.

(16) T. Détorakis & J. Mossay, “Un office inédit pour ceux qui sont morts à la guerre, dans le Cod. Sin. Gr. 734-735,” Le muséon 101 (1988): 183-211. The service is preserved in a tenth-century manuscript at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai, and must date to the reign of Nikephoros II (d. 969) or slightly later, for which see Stephenson, "Chronicle of 811," 107-8.

Paul Stephenson, July 2010; January 2012