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Encyclopedia > Tagma (military)

A Tagma (plural tagmata) was a military unit in the Byzantine Empire. The term is used in the modern Greek military for a battalion (cf. Greek military ranks). Byzantine Empire (Greek: Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων) is the term conventionally used since the 19th century to describe the Greek-speaking Roman Empire during the Middle Ages, centered at its capital in Constantinople. ... The armed forces of Greece consist of the Hellenic Army Hellenic Navy Hellenic Air Force Hellenic Coast Guard The civilian authority for the Greek military is the Ministry of National Defence. ... Symbol of the Austrian 14th Armoured Battalion in NATO code In military terminology, a battalion consists of two to six companies typically commanded by a lieutenant colonel. ... Modern Greek military ranks are based on Ancient Greek & Byzantine terminology, even though the ranks correspond to those of other Western armies. ...


In the year 743, the Byzantine emperor Constantine V retook Constantinople from the rebellious Count of the Opsician thema, Artabasdus. Soon after, Constantine broke up the rebellious Opsician theme. Apparently, roughly half of the soldiers assigned to the theme were used to create six new military units known as the Tagmata (brigades). In order to ensure their loyalty, the commanders were directly responsible to the emperor. Events Umayyad caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik (724-743) succeeded by al-Walid II ibn Abd al-Malik (743-744). ... Constantine V Copronymus (The Dung-named) was Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775. ... Map of Constantinople. ... Themes (singular thema) were administrative units of land in the Byzantine Empire. ... Artabasdus was a chamberlain of the Byzantine emperor Leo III the Isaurian and briefly seized power in Constantinople soon after the accession of Leos son, Constantine V Copronymus, in 741. ...

These new units were assigned to the capital, the former Opsician theme, and the theme of Thrace. The four most prestigious tagmata, in order, were the Scholae (Gr. Σχολαι, "Scholars"), the Excubitors (Gr. Εξκουβιτοι, "Watchers"); the Aritmoi (Gr. Αριτμοι, "Numbers") or Vigiles (Gr. υιγλα, "Watch"), and the Hikanatoi (Gr. Ικανατοι, "Worthies"). All of these, and the Phoideratoi (Gr. Φοιδηρατοι "Allies"), were cavalry units consisting of from 1-6,000 men each. The Numeroi (Gr. Νουμηροι, "Bathhouse boys"), Optimatoi (Gr. Οπτιματοι, "Best"), and Wall regiment were infantry tagmata. Thrace (Greek Θρᾴκη, ThrákÄ“, Bulgarian Тракия, Trakija, Turkish Trakya; Latin: Thracia or Threcia) is a historical and geographic area in southeast Europe spread over southern Bulgaria, northeastern Greece (Western Thrace), and European Turkey. ... The Vigiles or more properly the Vigiles Urbani (watchmen of the City) or Cohortes Vigilum (cohorts of the watchmen) were the firefighters and police of Ancient Rome. ...

Some of the tagmata (especially the Scholae) began as an honorary post for well-connected citizens (δυνατοι). One emperor even amused himself by placing it on the active duty roster for an upcoming campaign only to see the panicked reaction of its senators, aristocrats, and merchants. Other units, such as the Vigiles, were used basically as policemen and firefighters for the capital Constantinople. Eventually, however, the tagmata all became practical, crack units.

Despite the main purpose of supressing military rebellion, the tagmata turned out to have practical uses. For one, they were more mobile than the theme troops. While they still held land in return for military service, the tagmata tended to sublet their estates and were primarily used for offensive action rather than garrison duty. This made them a good supplement to the theme troops, who were more concerned with local defense.

References and Sources

  • Warren Treadgold, The Struggle for Survival, edited by Cyril Mango, published in The Oxford History of Byzantium. (Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • Stephen McCotter, Byzantine army, edited by Richard Holmes, published in The Oxford Companion to Military History. (Oxford University Press, 2001)

McCotter's sources listed as:

  • Bartusis, M.C., The Late Byzantine Army: Arms and Society 1204-1453 (Philadelphia, 1992).
  • Haldon, J., State, Army and Society in Byzantium (Aldershot, 1995).
  • Treadgold, W., The Byzantine Army 284-1081 (Stanford, 1995).

External links

  • Explore Byzantium



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