Themes

   Themes (themata in Greek) were military zones, each administered by a military governor, the strategos (q.v.), much like the exarchates of Carthage and Ravenna (qq.v.). The earliest themes, including the Anatolikon, Armeniakon, Opsikion, and Thrakesion (qq.v.) protected Asia Minor (q.v.) against the attacks of Arabs (q.v.). The backbone of the theme system consisted of soldier-farmers, each of whom pledged personal and hereditary service in return for a grant of land; the system seemed to infer that funds derived from taxation (q.v.) were insufficient (or not the best way) to maintain such widely scattered soldiers. Such soldiers' properties (stratiotika ktimata) may have originated as early as 622 under Herakleios (q.v.), in response to the Persian (q.v.) threat. Their preservation of stratiotika ktimata demanded the vigilance of 10th-century emperors (q.v.) such as Nikephoros II Phokas (q.v.). Themes appear to have been developed in response to regional needs. The tendency of large thematic armies to revolt led to the division of large themes into smaller themes in the eighth and ninth centuries. In the 11th century the system deteriorated rapidly, beginning with Basil II (q.v.), who relied more on his Varangians (q.v.) and on a paid army. At the battle of Mantzikert in 1071, roughly a half-century later, the thematic levies that faced the Seljuks (q.v.) were utterly ill-disciplined and ill-equipped. The core of Romanos IV's army were mercenaries.

Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . .

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