Medieval Armies DBA Page

Later Byzantine Armies: DBA 153 Army Variants

By David Kuijt


The DBA army lists are often a little simple; at the back of the DBA manual the authors admit this limitation and recommend that omissions be corrected by taking the DBM army list for a given army and translating it into a 12-element DBA army list.

The Later Byzantine list is one place where expanded listings would be valuable. The Later Byzantine list begins in 1204, when the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople, formed the Latin Empire, and shattered the weakened Byzantine Empire into multiple bits. The politics and warfare and petty states that resulted are tremendously interesting, and sadly get short shrift in the DBA Army Listing.

The lists that follow are my translation of the five post-1204 Byzantine lists from DBM book IV into DBA.

Composition of DBA Army #153 Later Byzantine (1204 AD - 1460 AD)

This is the unmodified DBA #153 army list, for comparison.

Historically and militarily this is a vast generalization. The Fourth Crusade split the mighty Byzantine Empire into a number of pieces. The victorious Crusaders declared the formation of the Latin Empire; a new Byzantium under Romanian Frankish control. Small remnants of Greek Byzantium held out in the Despotates of Epiros, the Empire of Nicaea, and the tiny Empire of Trebizond.

But Byzantium was not dead yet. The remnant parts regrew, regaining land and strength in a competition to regain Constantinople from the Romanian Franks. Within a generation the crusaders lost Northern Greece; by 1261 the Romanian Franks lost Constantinople to the resurgent Nicaean Empire, and by the early 14th century Byzantium seemed to have recovered, only to weaken itself further in a generation of civil war.

Even then the end was prolonged. The Serbian Empire of Stephen Dushan failed to capture Constantinople in the 14th century. The Ottoman Sultan, Bayezit "The Thunderbolt" had already started a siege of Constantinople in 1402 when he was forced to withdraw and confront the armies of Tamerlane; the Ottoman defeat there delayed the conquest of Constantinople for 50 years.

153a Nikaian Byzantine (1204 AD - 1261 AD)

This covers the Eastern half of the remnants of Byzantium after the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Originally based in Anatolia, it regained Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaloniki from 1235-1246. The Nikaian army was very effective, beating the Seljuqs at Antioch in 1211, and the Romanian Franks repeatedly.

Stratiotai were armoured lancers.

Latinikon were Frankish knights recruited as mercenaries from the Latin Empire (Constantinople).

The Light Horse were mostly Skythikon, originally Pechenegs but in the period under consideration usually Cumans. They would be almost exclusively unarmoured horse bowmen without shields. After 1242 a large mass of Cumans fleeing the Mongols were settled within Byzantine lands, and the Skythikon would have been largely Cuman allies in native equipment.

Up to one element of light horse could represent the Vardariotai guards formed from Magyar settlers in the Vardar valley; they would also be equipped as unarmoured horse bowmen without shields. Up to one element of light horse could be Tourkopouloi, converted Turks with bow and shield.

The bulk of the infantry were archers from Anatolia. All Psiloi would be unarmoured archers. Some archers are depicted with spears and small shields; the one Bow element allowed represents these troops.

Kontaratoi were unarmoured spearmen.

153b Epirot Byzantine (1204 AD - 1318 AD)

This covers the Western half of the remnants of Byzantium after the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204, centered on Epiros. This also represents the smaller states of Thessaloniki and Thessaly. From 1207 to 1224 the Despot of Epiros fought successful wars against the Latin Empire, regaining Thessaloniki, Thessaly, Thrace, and much of Macedonia. He was defeated and captured by the Bulgarians in 1230 while preparing to recapture Constantinople; his nascent empire split into three Despotates: Epiros, Thessaly, and Thessaloniki.

In 1246 Thessaloniki fell to the Nikaian Byzantines. In 1318 the Despot of Thessaly died childless and his lands were divided between his powerful neighbours of the revived Byzantine Empire and the Catalan Duchy of Athens; when the Despot of Epiros was assassinated that same year Epiros was also absorbed by the Byzantine Empire.

Byzantine Cavalry were armoured lancers.

Vlach cavalry had spear, bow, and shield. Bulgars were horse archers with shields; Albanian Light Horse had javelins and shield.

The Psiloi were Byzantine archers or Albanian or Vlach foot; in either case outfitted with bow and little else.

153c Trapezuntine Byzantine (1204 AD - 1461 AD)

The tiniest, most isolated, and longest-lasting fragment of the Byzantine Empire. Split off and isolated by geography on the south coast of the Black Sea after the fall of Constantinople in 1204, it survived through alliances and maintaining a low profile, although it could defend itself against the smaller Anatolian Turkish Emirs that bordered it. Once they were all combined by the Ottomans Trebizond's hours were numbered.

Although the Ilkhan suzerainity over the Anatolian Turkish Emirs was very limited, the army of the Ilkhans has an identical makeup in DBA to that of the Anatolian Turks. Enemy 159a represents the Anatolian Turks under the Ilkhanate.

Before 1360 the 2x 3Cv option is mandatory; after 1400 the lancers had been absorbed by the horse archers, and 3Cv may not be taken as an option. Between 1360 and 1400 the 3Cv may be taken, but are not mandatory.

Some of the Light Horse fielded could be Anatolian Turkish allies. Laz and Tzan horse archers were mostly unarmoured, equipped with bow, sabre, and sometimes mace, but they had a fearsome reputation.

Psiloi and Bow would be made up of both Laz and Tzan infantry archers and Trapezuntine archers.

153d Palaiologan Byzantine (1261 AD - 1384 AD)

This list covers the resurgence of the Byzantine Empire after the Nikaian Byzantines reconquered Constantinople. It ends in 1384 when the last Byzantine army outside the Morea was defeated. Although Constantinople was not finally conquered until 1453, it was too weak to field any army after 1384. From the middle of the 14th century until 1384 Byzantium was locked in another of its regular sequence of civil wars that drained its strength and left it helpless in front of the Ottoman onslaught.

Stratiotai were armoured lancers. They wore moderate armour and a long triangular shield if from western provinces; a round shield if from Anatolia, Thessaloniki or Constantinople.

The defeat of the Latin Empire had removed the supply of Frankish mercenaries; Kavallarioi are their descendants. They are attested as having heavier armour than the Stratiotai and being on larger horses.

If the Emperor commanded the army in the field his guards would be present; these consisted of the Vardariotai described earlier and a force of light armed infantry, either Tzakones from the Morea, or Catalan mercenaries, or similar troops.

The bulk of the infantry were unarmoured archers. Some archers are shown wearing armour and shooting from behind shields in Turkish fashion; these would be the one 4Bw element.

Kontaratoi were unarmoured spearmen.

153e Morean Byzantine (1262 AD - 1460 AD)

This list covers Byzantine armies in southern Greece. It begins when they regain a foothold in the Morea from the Romanian Franks, and ends when they are conquered by the Ottomans. It was fairly powerful on a local scale into the 15th century, reaching its greatest extent in 1432.

Stratiotai were poor cavalry, considered inept and unenthusiastic.

After 1315 some Frankish nobles reconciled themselves to their new overlords and served in the army as feudal vassals; the 3Kn option should not be used before 1315.

Most of the full-time troops garrisoned fortresses; peasant infantry formed the bulk of the remainder. Hillmen are Melingoi or Tzakones prone to banditry.

In 1347 an influx of Albanian immigrants began, and large Albanian contingents (mostly cavalry) could be fielded from then on. Albanian light horse fought with shield and spear.

Enemies and Allies of the Later Byzantines

Other important army lists in contact with the Later Byzantines:

142b Later Serbian: Under Stephen Dushan the Serbian Empire became a great power in the 14th century, conquering much of the Balkans and nearly taking Constantinople.

147 Later Bulgar: Bulgarian rebellion against Byzantine overlordship started before the Fourth Crusade, but gained strength from the shattering of Byzantium in 1204, and was a constant thorn in the side of the Empire thereafter.

152 Romanian Frank: this is the armies of the Latin Empire formed of the Fourth Crusade, and later (when Constantinople was lost) the armies of the Romanian Frankish Dukes of Achaia, until destroyed by the Catalan Company.

165 Catalan Company: leftovers from the Angevin conquest of Sicily, the Catalan Company hired itself first to Byzantium, then to Achaia. It was betrayed by both employers, and took terrible revenge on them both. In 1311 the Catalan Company defeated the knighthood of Achaia in the battle of Kephissos and destroyed the last remnants of the Fourth Crusade.

And of course the Turks:

124 Seljuq Turk: opponents of the Byzantines in Anatolia for centuries, They were subdued and divided after the Mongols beat them in 1250. Although they became nominal subjects of the Mongol Ilkhans, They basically formed petty Emirates, warring with each other, until the rise of the Ottomans.

160a Early Ottoman: initially a single Seljuq Emirate bordering the Nikaian Empire. The Osmanli (Ottoman) Turks gradually conquered their neighbours, seeing their destiny in the destruction of Constantinople.

160b Later Ottoman: the Ottomans evolved from a single Emirate into the strongest power in the region, and finally, two and a half centuries after the Fourth Crusade, captured Constantinople and ended the history of Rome.

Page created: January 20, 1999

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