Saturday, January 09, 2010
Evening in Byzantium
(fm the BC thread "Looking out the window")
If the Byzantines had developed a naval force and a mobile strike force capable of conducting amphibious landings and sweeps along the Black Sea coast and up the tributary rivers she could have established control over the migrating Slavic tribes with possibly game changing results. Like all alternative histories that falls into the hopeful monster category. They could have done it but didn't. Most of the time they relied on a static territorial defense tied to a feudal system. The times they did project power they were often successful against the Muslims. The two great spectacular failures were at Yarmuk and Manzikert. They were both land based expeditions to recover recently lost territory and challenge an invasion head on.
The Byzantines had an excellent navy that was largely focused on piracy suppression in the Eastern Mediterranean. That problem predated the arabs, indeed it was the natural order going back before the Iliad and little had changed. The Byzantines had viking units but not the large offensive mobile amphibious land forces I am talking about. They had the trade and missionary based intelligence network to understand the threats from migrating tribes. Even more important they had the cultural confidence to resist Islam and project their civilization out. That dynamism was successful in converting the Slavs to the North but failed in the face of triumphant Islam to the South. However without a Northern focused amphibious strategy they were unable to transform their cultural domination over the invading Slavs into military domination and an ability to effectively use them against the invading muslims. Unfortunately at critical times the nature of their economic and political institutions resulted in their adopting a static defense. The need to focus their military efforts to the South and East were understandable and the disastrous impact of Western betrayal in the 4th Crusade can not be denied. Still given the potential benefits and the slow predictable results of incursions from the North and South it is regrettable that a bolder strategy using amphibious landings of large mobile units to the North was not attempted. During the early Roman Empire the infrastructure was being developed for large seaborne movements across the North Sea to get behind and control the Germanic tribes in the West. That was largely abandoned after the disaster of the Teutoberger Wald.