THE BYZANTINE MILITIA
In the proto-Byzantine period, the inhabitants of the Empire’s urban areas were organized in groups along the lines of the Circus Fractions. These groups were called “Deimoi” and were headed by leaders called “Democrats”. These groups were organized as paramilitary formations with policing and military tasks. Among their tasks were keeping the city clean, performing fire service and the burial of the dead from the epidemics or war. Because they were not considered reliable in open battle, their main role during wartime, was the defense of the city walls in case of siege.
The inhabitants of the Constaninopolis urban are inside the walls were called «Politicoi» and residents of the suburbs (the area beyond city walls was called “Peran” ) were called ‘”Peratikoi”. Procopius states that in Antioch the militiamen were better equipped than those of the capital -perhaps because of more lax Imperial supervision. After the «Nika Revolt», their strength was limited, in order to prevent possible future rebellions.
The Arab invasions of the seventh and eighth centuries brought changes to the system of the Empire’s defense. At the points where covering crossings and passage ways were built small towers called “vigla” and were manned by local guards called “viglatores”. The viglatores were responsible only for their area and did not follow the regular army on campaigns. Their mission was more supplementary to the light cavalry “Akritae” frontier units. The upsurge of piracy in the Eastern Mediterranean brought the vigla institution and to the Aegean Islands and Cyprus.
The viglatores were aged between 17 and 50 years of age and were trained in the use mainly of projectile weapons and in the art of sending signals. Chosen by the elders of the nearby villages. Their mission was to whether armed enemy groups or ships passed from their area of responsibility. Signals were transmitted from one vigla to another, thus putting the local military forces on alert, while with appropriate signals the inhabitants of the region were also alerted in order to seek refuge in fortresses or caves together with everything that could be useful to the enemy (e.g. food or tools).
During 14th century Byzantine Empire decayed rapidly. The social fabric had been destroyed and the State was at the whim of foreign mercenaries that was unable to pay. The only positive thing was the consolidation of the Empire’s position in Peloponessos and the repulse of the Catalan Company assault in Thessaloniki. Technological lead in weapons had passed to the hands of the Westerners.
The final end came in the 15th century. Unable to exploit the problems of the Ottomans after the battle of Ankara, the Empire gradually lost territories to them and even Constantinople itself was found in the first line of Turkish attacks. The few regular soldiers and militiamen had not been adequately prepared to prevent the Ottoman army to finally destroy the Byzantine Empire in 1453.
The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c.500–1492 translated by MELISSA publications 1966
Osprey Military publishing Co: “Romano-Byzantine Armies 4th-9th cent”
Gwatkin, H.M., Whitney, J.P. (ed) et al. The Cambridge Medieval History Cambridge University Press, 1926.
Forbes, Townsbee, Mitrany, Hogarth “The Balkans: A history,of Bulgaria Serbia Greece, Rumania, Turkey” Oxford University press 1915
A History of the Byzantine Empire by Al. Vasilief Translated from the Russian by S. Ragozin, Madison 1928
Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire 1782 (Written), 1845 (Revised)
John Haldon Byzantium at War Osprey ISBN: 0415968615