A long article looks at the possible Arab siege of Byzantium of 674-678, a major event that might actually never have happened. The article examines our main source for the siege itself, as well as other sources that cover the same period without mentioning it, and comes up with a convincing reason for how the original chronicler may have misinterpreted his own sources. A later article looks at the very real siege of 717-18, which saw a much reduced Empire survive an attack by a large, well organised Arab army. A key element to many Byzantine victories (including the second siege) was Greek Fire, a rather mysterious substance. A brief article gives an overview of its use, and tantalises us with an account of the examination of a ‘grenade’ like object that is probably filled with the residue from some version of Greek Fire!
Next is a look at the Byzantine army of the eighth century – a period in which the cavalry had largely taken over from the infantry at the heart of the Byzantine armies, giving these later armies a very different feel to the more familiar Legions. This is followed by an article on the Byzantine military manuals, the continuation of a form of writing that predated the Roman Empire. These were an unusual mix of clearly obsolete information copied from much earlier manuals, and very up-to-date advice that clearly related to the armies and enemies of the later Byzantine Empire.
Away from the main there is an article on the siege of Harlech Castle during the War of the Roses, which saw some of the last Lancastrians hold out for seven years, before finally surrendering after a month long formal siege, a look at a major raid into Muslim Spain led by a warlike archbishop and an examination of an attempt to introduce a level of scientific observation into Medieval surgery that was sadly overwhelmed by the dogma of the times.
The most interesting article for me, and one that came as a total surprise, looks at the Spanish use of Japanese mercenaries in the Philippines in the 16th Century. Generally books on the Samurai focus on Japan, and perhaps Korea and China, but this makes it clear that bands of Japanese could be found all across south-east Asia at this time.
Against the Empire: The Arabs bring war to Byzantium
Was there a 674-78 siege? ‘They did the same thing for seven years’
Defenders of the Empire: The Byzantine soldier in the 8th century
Knowledge that Kills – Byzantine military manuals and warfare
The Arab siege of 717-718 – ‘A furious storm fell upon them’
Playing with Greek Fire – the first chemical weapon?
The siege of Harlech Castle – Welsh resistance in the Wars of the Roses
An archbishop and his cavalry – An innumerable multitude of livestock
The King of Spain’s samurai – Controlling 16th century Philippines
Controversial treatments – Changing medieval battlefield surgery