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September 14, 2008, 3:04 pm

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Byzantine Military Ranks


An attempt to codify the Byzantine military system.

The Byzantine Empire has a long military history, and the structure of it’s military forces varied as the nature of warfare changed. One of the earliest changes was the addition of regular cavalry to roman infantry legions. Later the Theme system, consisting of military forces protecting land grants was adopted. Finally, the Byzantines did NOT use uniform unit sizes as this allowed them to keep their enemies from guessing their true strength. Because of the wide variety of organization in the Byzantine military, I’ve decided to go with a semi-historical approach to simplify the end results.

Note: Byzantine military titles are derived from both Latin and Greek sources.

Unit Types

Cataphract - From the Greek, Kataphraktos (meaning "armored"), a heavy cavalryman. Cataphracts were armored with conical helms and chain or scale armor known as lorikon, additionally, a thyreos (small, round shield) was used. Armament was typically a composite bow, kontarion (lance), with a spatha or paramerion (scimitar) as the primary backup weapon, and a mace or battle axe as a secondary backup weapon

Skoutatoi - These heavy infantry formed the majority (roughly 70%) of the Byzantine infantry. Their name derives from the skouton, a large oval-shaped shield. In addition they were armored with simple conical helms, kremasmata (an armored skirt), livanion (a sleeveless lamellar cuirass typically augmented with pteruges (leather strips worn to protect the shoulders)), and epilorikion (a padded leather garment worn over the cuirass). Their arms included a spatha (double-edged sword) and kontarion (two to three meter long pike). In battle formations, they filled the first seven of ten ranks.

Toxotai - Byzantine light infantry were typically archers, employing a composite bow with a spatha or tzikourion (small axe) for close combat. They were generally wore only a kavadion for armor. They were employed as the final three of ten ranks in battle formations.

Menavlatoi  - A specialist variant of the Skoutatoi, more lightly armored, employing a smaller shield, but armed with a much stouter type of pike (Menavlion) .

Peltastoi - Unarmored light infantrymen, armed with javelins


Tetrarch - Leader of a "Rear Guard," composed of four men.

Pentrarch - Leader of a "Vanguard," composed of five men.

Decarch - Leader of a Decharchy, composed of one Rear Guard and one Vanguard, for a total of ten men.

Pentecontarch - Leader of five Decharchia, unit total of 50 men.


Hecatontarch - Leader of a cavalry century.
Kentarch(os)  - Leader of an infantry century.

Komes - "Count," Leader of a Banda/Bandum.

Chiliarch - Leader of an infantry chiliarchy.
Domestikos - Leader of a cavalry tagma.

Drungary/Drungarios - Leader of an infantry drungus.
Moirarch - Leader of a cavalry moira.

Merarch - Leader of a cavalry meros.
Turmarch/Tourmarch - Leader of an infantry turma.

Strategos - General in charge of a Themata (Theme)


Ourghos - Lance Corporal

Lochaghos - Warrant Officer. A Lochaghos commanded the Lochaghiai. The Lochagos was assisted in his mission by his second in command the Dekarchos.

Ilarch/Illarch - The senior Hekatonarch

Stratopedarches (Master of the Camp) - This official was in charge of making sure the army was stocked with food and arms.

Hoplitarches/Archegetes - Commander of all infantry in a large army.

Ethnarches - The ethnarch, commander of foreign troops.

Kontostaulos - Greek form of Latin Comes stabuli ‘count of the stable’ and various European feudal titles such as English "constable" - the chief of the Frankish mercenaries.

Hetaireiarches - The chief of the barbarian mercenaries, the Hetaireia, successor to the Foederati. Initially subdivided into Greater (Megale), Middle (Mese) and Little (Mikra) Hetaireia.

Akolouthos - "Acolyte," the chief of the Varangian Guard during the Palaeologan era.

Manglavitai - A category of palace guards, armed with sword and whip (manglavion, from the Arabic mijlab). Under the command of a Protomanglavites.

Topoteretes  - Meaning "place-holder", "lieutenant". Found at various levels of the hierarchy, as deputies to commanders of the imperial tagmata, deputy to a drungarios.

Chartoularios - Secretary.

Protomandator - Head messenger.

Bandophoroi - Standard bearers, of which there are about 40 per chiliarchy.

Mandatores - Messengers, of which there are about 40 per chiliarchy.

The unit types listed will have the infantry title listed first, and the cavalry title (if different) listed after the slash. The english approximation will be in paranthesis where applicable.

Rearguard - A unit of four soldiers, commanded by a Tetrarch.

Vanguard - A unit of five troops, led by a Pentarch.

Decarchy or Decad/Dekarkia (Squad) - A unit of ten soldiers. Composed of one Rear Guard and one Vanguard and commanded by a Decarch.

Allaghia (Platoon) - A unit of fifty troops, comprised of ten squads and commanded by a Pentecontarch.

Kentarchia/Hekatontarchia (Century) - A unit of one hundred soldiers, composed of two platoons and led by a Kentarch/Hekatontarch.

Banda (Squadron) - A cavalry-only unit composed of 200-400 troops, made up of two to four centuries and commanded by a Komes.

Numeri (Company) - A rarely used infantry-only unit composed of 300-400 soldiers, being three to four centuries led by a Topoteretes.

Chiliarchy/Tagma (Battalion) - A unit composed of several Numeri/Banda, up to roughly 1000 troops, commanded by a Chiliarch/Domestikos.

Drungus or Drungoi/Mora(i) (Brigade) - A unit composed of roughly two to four battalions, with 2000-4000 soldiers, led by a Drungary/Moirarch.

Turma/Meros (Division) - A unit composed of two to four brigades, with 4000-16,000 troops, commanded by a Merarch/Turmarch.

Themata (Army) - This unit size is generally composed of both infantry and cavalry units, usually comprised by four divisions for 16,000-64,000 (or more) soldiers, commanded by a Strategos.

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Comments ( 4 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted MoonHunter
September 16, 2008, 1:17
This is an interesting listing. It shows the way other militaries were organized in history. You may never use it directly, but it is food for thought for your world.
Voted valadaar
September 16, 2008, 11:11
This is the level of detail I'd like to see in the other lists - nicely done Kuseru!
Voted Scrasamax
September 16, 2008, 13:45
Now this is acceptible, ranks, organization, and a feel for the whole system. If only the rest looked like this.
Voted klauston
May 12, 2009, 0:58
As a former military man myself, I like the ranks, the organization breakdown and the descriptions. Well done.

Link Backs


Random Idea Seed View All Idea Seeds

       By: Almar

While setting up camp for the night, the PC's are aproached by another group of adventurers who seem nice enough. The road is somewhat dangerous and the other group suggests camping together. The two bands split watches, one adventurer from each group watching at once. The night goes by without incident, the next day the PC's travel with the other group as they are going the same way.

The group consists of Hordel the ranger, who is skilled with the bow. Hordel is a quiet man who speaks little but appears quite skilled. Dremar is a barbarian who is a little excentric, he seems to be an excasive drinker and thiunk that battle is the solution to everything. He appears to be a stout and powerful fighter with his greataxe. Ferrin is the leader of the group, a rouge by trade. He is daft and witty, speaking with the PCs often and asking many questions. He fights with finesse with his rapier. Preminitat as a cleric but he will not say which god he worships. He uses his spells to empower and heal his party and fights with a club. He sticks close to Ferrin. Ferrin is a great talker and tells much of himself and his party, but asks even more about the history and capabilities of the PCs. He tells of some adventures his party has had, and they seem like an interesting group of mercenaries. Hordel is quite and has little interest in speaking with the PCs, he ignores most questions. He spends a lot of time with Dremar and sometimes Ferrin. Dremar seems to not care about any questions ansked to him, nor does he seem to know the answers. He seems battle hardened and is a simple man. Preminitat rarely starts conversations but will speak with the PCs. However, some of his accounts of the party's history seem to condradict those of Ferrin.

The Party spends another night and day with Ferrin's group. One of four things can happen on the third night.
1: While eating dinner around the fire, Ferrin gets into an argument with one of the PCs when he/she mentions the discepincies between Ferrin's stories and Preminitat's.
2: Hordel gets mad after repeated questioning about his life from the PCs.
3. Preminitat gets mad after repeated questioning from the PCs about what god he worships.
4: One of the PCs rejects the offer of a drink from Dremar and he takes it as an insult.
All of these scenarios result in a battle between the parties. If Ferrin's party is defeated and still lives he swears vengance. His party may then cross paths with the adventurers again.

Encounter  ( Locations ) | November 15, 2003 | View | UpVote 0xp

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