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


 

Military documents of the mid-tenth century

 

1. The first three verses of a hymn (ed. Détorakis & Mossay, Le Muséon 1988), preserved in a unique tenth-century document at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai. Hitherto, the hymn has only been dated vaguely to the late ninth or early tenth century, largely on palaeographical grounds. The emphasis on prisoners-of-war supports a date in the mid-tenth century, when large numbers of captives were taken in the Byzantine conflicts with the Hamdanids. However, a better dating clue is provided by the references to “taxiarchs,” who hold a position in the hymn between generals and soldiers. Although taxiarchos (alt. taxiarchês ) is an ancient Greek term, it is used for the first time as a specific Byzantine rank – the commander of an infantry unit numbering 1000 troops – in a military manual of the later tenth-century, the praecepta militaria attributed to Nikephoros Phokas.

Cortona ivory reliquary of the True Cross, icons 

Let us gather together people of Christ

And celebrate the memory

Of our brothers who died in battle

And those who perished in intolerable captivity.

Let us entreat on their behalf.

 

They were valiant until their slaughter

Your servants, Lover of Man;

They received

Blows pitilessly

Persevering in fetters;

Let it be that these men for these things

Achieve atonement of their souls, Lover of Man.

 

You alone who are without sin,

Took in those

who are your servants,

Illustrious generals ( stratêgous ),

commanding commanders ( taxiarchas ),

Brave soldiers ( stratiotas ),

Judge them worthy of your repose.

 

 

2. A service, akolouthia (ed. Pertusi, Aevum 22, 1948), which has been dated to the tenth century – opinion favours 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 (note references to emperors in plural; which could perhaps also refer to Basil I and his son Leo VI) – begins as follows:

 Cortona Reliquary, inscriptions

Saviour, who gave power to wise David,

cast down our adversaries as you did Goliath of old,

Compassionate One,

with your invisible slingshot, Christ,

crush their insolent acts and designs,

so that with faith we may honour you.

 

Life-giving son of God, by the prayers of your mother,

and by the divine supplications of the angels and gloriously triumphant martyrs,

gladden your faithful emperors,

shatter the throngs of barbarians, and to the army

that worships you, show mercy.

 

O Lord who showed to Constantine the first emperor of the Christians

the divine cross, and uttered from the heavens

“Trust in this sign,”

You, O Lord, by the power of the cross give now

victory and vigour and truly divine power

to your army in your compassion.

 

O Lord who fought with most gentle David

to defeat the Philistine,

fight beside your faithful emperors.

and armed with the cross

cast down their enemies

 

3. Besides singing hymns and saying prayers en masse, Byzantine troops were treated to harangues, two of which have survived from the 950s (so are most likely contemporary with the foregoing akolouthia). The first speech was delivered on behalf of Emperor Constantine VII to praise a defensive force which had won victories over the rampaging army of Saif ad-Dawla. It was most likely delivered late in 950, as that force was disbanded for the winter, and encouraged to re-assemble promptly the following summer. The following is excerpted from the translation by E. McGeer (2003):

 

Therefore, have no fear, my men, have no fear, fill your souls with zeal and show the enemies who rely on the aid of Beliar or Mohammed what those who put their faith in Christ can accomplish. Be the avengers and champions not only of Christians, but of Christ himself, whom they wickedly deny …And so let us put all our hope in him, and instead of our whole panoply let us arm ourselves with His cross, equipped with which you lately made the fierce soldiers of the Hamdanid the victims of your swords …

 

The second extant harangue was delivered in different circumstances, not to a successful defensive force disbanding, but, on internal evidence, to an large expeditionary force comprising the armies of the east and west, with foreign mercenary units also present. It was, therefore, most likely delivered in 958, the year before Constantine VII's death; Eric McGeer (2003), whose translation and commentary I am using, proposes September 958, on the eve of a dramatic Byzantine victory over Saif ad-Dawla at Raban. Evidently, the harangue worked, but to ensure victory Constantine had sought the prayers of holy men and monks throughout the empire, and despatched to the army “holy water,” which emanated from the most holy relics. The relics from which water was gathered are enumerated, and provide an extremely interesting list of the relics of the Passion gathered in Constantinople. The list begins, as was meet in a military context, with the True Cross, for it was this relic which supplanted the symbolic cross, as seen by the first Constantine, as the harbinger of Byzantine victory:

 

Behold that after drawing holy water from the immaculate and most sacred relics of the Passion of Christ our true God – from the precious wooden fragments [of the true cross] and the undefiled lance, the precious titulus, the wonder-working reed, the life-giving blood which flowed from His precious rib, the most sacred tunic, the holy swaddling clothes, the God-bearing winding sheet, and the other relics of His undefiled Passion – we have sent it to be sprinkled upon you, for you to be anointed by it and to garb yourself with the divine power from on high.

 



Bibliography

Dennis, G., “Religious services in the Byzantine army,” in: Eulogema. Studies in Honor of Robert Taft (Rome, 1993) = Studia Anselmiana 110 (1993), pp. 107-17, for references to texts and editions.

See now also the full translations of the harangues by E. McGeer in Byzantine authors: literary activities and preoccupations: texts and translations dedicated to the memory of Nicolas Oikonomides, ed. J. Nesbitt, The Medieval Mediterranean 46 (Leiden, 2003).


 

Paul Stephenson, 28 December 2003

Revised November 2006; January 2012