Book Review: Road to Manzikert: Byzantine and Islamic Warfare, 527–1071

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by Brian Todd Carey, with illustrations by Joshua B. Allfree and John Cairns

Barnsley, Eng. / Philadelphia: Pen & Sword / Casemate, 2021. Pp. xx, 204+. Illus., maps, plates, diagr., gloss., personae, notes, biblio., index. $22.95 paper. ISBN: 1526796643

The Collapse of East Roman Power

The Battle of Manzikert in August 1071 ranks as one of the most decisive military clashes you never heard of. When Sultan Alp Arslan’s Seljuk Turks destroyed the Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) army and captured the hapless emperor, Romanos IV, it meant the mountains and plains of Anatolia would become and remain Turkish and Muslim, rather than Greek and Orthodox Christian.

Writing Byzantine military history is a challenge because the primary sources, mainly in Greek, Armenian and Syriac, were mostly compiled by monastic chroniclers with little interest in or understanding of contemporary warfare. Arabic language sources provide some perspective from the other side of the hill, but they were often written centuries after the events to glorify an age of heroic conquests. But a handful of military manuals that survived in manuscript provide valuable insights into the professionalism and sophistication of Byzantine tactical and operational doctrine as it developed to meet new threats.

A remarkable feature of warfare in this era is that battles often featured ritualized duels between champions” - with immediate effects on the morale of either side. Many battles lasted for days. This was in sharp contrast to ancient battles, which were generally decided in the course of a few hours by armies that were relatively fragile. Some examples that are clearly explained and diagrammed in the book include Yarmuk (636 C.E., six days), Qadisiya (636 C.E., four days), Tours (732 C.E., two days), Dorostolon (971 C.E,. four days), and Manzikert (1071, three days).

Road to Manzikert is a new paperback edition of a book originally published in 2012. The author is an Assistant Professor of History at American Military University. The numerous maps and battle plans (expertly drawn by Joshua B. Allfree and John Cairns) are excellent. Despite a few careless typos, the book is generally well edited and highly readable. Readers with an interest in medieval military history will enjoy it.

 

Our Reviewer: Mike Markowitz is an historian and wargame designer. He writes a monthly column for CoinWorld and is a member of the ADBC (Association of Dedicated Byzantine Collectors). His previous reviews include, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy, ca. 500-1204, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900-1200, Heroes and Romans in Twelfth-Century Byzantium: The Material for History of Nikephoros Bryennios, The Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD), Constantine XI Dragaš Palaeologus, Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium, The Emperor in the Byzantine World, The Politics of Roman Memory: From the Fall of the Western Empire to the Age of Justinian, Theodosius and the Limits of Empire, Byzantium Triumphant: The Military History of the Byzantines, 959–1025, and Rome Resurgent: War and Empire in the Age of Justinian.

 

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Note: Road to Manzikert is also available in paperback and e-editions.

 
StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium (www.nymas.org)
Reviewer: Mike Markowitz   


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