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The themes or ( el, θέματα, , singular: , ) were the main military/
administrative division Administrative division, administrative unitArticle 3(1). , country subdivision, administrative region, subnational entity, first-level subdivision, as well as many similar terms, are generic names for geographical areas into which a particular ...

administrative division
s of the middle
Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn ...

Byzantine Empire
. They were established in the mid-7th century in the aftermath of the Slavic invasion of the Balkans and
Muslim conquests History of Islam, The history of the spread of Islam spans about 1,400 years. Muslim conquests following Muhammad's death led to the creation of the caliphates, occupying a vast geographical area; conversion to Islam was boosted by Islamic missio ...
of parts of Byzantine territory, and replaced the earlier provincial system established by
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in , Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a commander of ...
and
Constantine the Great Constantine I ( la, Flavius Valerius Constantinus; ; 27 February 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). Th ...

Constantine the Great
. In their origin, the first themes were created from the areas of encampment of the field armies of the
East Roman army The East Roman army refers to the army of the eastern section of the Roman Empire, from the empire's definitive split in 395 AD to the army's reorganization by themes after the permanent loss of Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا, ''Sūr ...
, and their names corresponded to the military units that had existed in those areas. The theme system reached its apogee in the 9th and 10th centuries, as older themes were split up and the conquest of territory resulted in the creation of new ones. The original theme system underwent significant changes in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the term remained in use as a provincial and financial circumscription until the very end of the Empire.


History


Background

During the late 6th and early 7th centuries, the
Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn ...

Byzantine Empire
was under frequent attack from all sides. The
Sassanid Empire The Sasanian () or Sassanid Empire, officially known as the Empire of Iranians ( Middle Persian: 𐭠𐭩𐭥𐭠𐭭𐭱𐭲𐭥𐭩 '' Ērānshahr''), and called the Neo-Persian Empire by historians, was the last Persian imperial dynasty bef ...
was pressing from the east on
Syria Syria ( ar, سُورِيَا or ar, سُورِيَة, ''Sūriyā''), officially the Syrian Arab Republic ( ar, ٱلْجُمْهُورِيَّةُ ٱلْعَرَبِيَّةُ ٱلسُّورِيَّةُ, al-Jumhūrīyah al-ʻArabīyah as-S ...
,
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a transcontinental country This is a list of countries located on more than one continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identi ...

Egypt
, and
Anatolia Anatolia,, tr, Anadolu Yarımadası), and the Anatolian plateau. also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula in Western Asia and the westernmost protrusion of the Asian continent. It makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey. The region ...
.
Slavs Slavs are an ethno-linguistic group of people who speak the various Slavic languages of the larger Balto-Slavic language, Balto-Slavic linguistic group of the Indo-European languages. They are native to Eurasia, stretching from Central Europe, ...
and
Avars Avar(s) or AVAR may refer to: Peoples and states * Avars (Caucasus), a modern Northeast Caucasian-speaking people in the North Caucasus, Dagestan, Russia **Avar language, the modern Northeast Caucasian language spoken by the Avars of the North Ca ...
raided Thrace, Macedonia, Illyricum and Greece and settled in the
Balkans The Balkans ( ), also known as the Balkan Peninsula, are a geographic area in southeastern Europe Europe is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rathe ...

Balkans
. The
Lombards The Lombards () or Langobards ( la, Langobardi) were a Germanic people The Germanic peoples were a historical group of people living in Central Europe Central Europe is an area of Europe between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, based on ...
occupied northern
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest ...

Italy
, largely unopposed. In order to face the mounting pressure, in the more distant provinces of the West, recently regained by
Justinian I Justinian I (; la, Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus; grc-gre, Ἰουστινιανός ; 48214 November 565), also known as Justinian the Great, was the Byzantine emperor This is a list of the Byzantine emperors from the foundation o ...
(r. 527–565), Emperor
MauriceMaurice may refer to: People *Saint Maurice (died 287), Roman legionary and Christian martyr *Maurice (emperor) or Flavius Mauricius Tiberius Augustus (539–602), Byzantine emperor *Maurice (bishop of London) (died 1107), Lord Chancellor and Lor ...
(r. 582–602) combined supreme civil and military authority in the person of an ''
exarch The term exarch () comes from the Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers s ...
'', forming the exarchates of
Ravenna Ravenna ( , , also ; rgn, Ravèna) is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna The province of Ravenna ( it, provincia di Ravenna; ) is a province A province is almost always an administrative division Administrative division, admin ...
and
Africa Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent A continent is any of several large landmass A landmass, or land mass, is a large region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', ...

Africa
. These developments overturned the strict division of civil and military offices, which had been one of the cornerstones of the reforms of
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in , Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a commander of ...
(r. 284–305). In essence however they merely recognized and formalized the greater prominence of the local general, or , over the respective civilian
praetorian prefect The praetorian prefect ( la, praefectus praetorio, el, ) was a high office in the Roman Empire. Originating as the commander of the Praetorian Guard The Praetorian Guard (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Itali ...
as a result of the provinces' precarious security situation. This trend had already featured in some of the administrative reforms of Justinian I in the 530s. Justinian had given military authority to the governors of individual provinces plagued by brigandage in
Asia Minor Anatolia,, tr, Anadolu Yarımadası), and the Anatolian plateau. also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from 'almost' and 'island') is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of ...

Asia Minor
, but more importantly, he had also created the exceptional combined military-civilian circumscription of the and abolished the civilian
Diocese of Egypt The Diocese of Egypt ( la, Dioecesis Aegypti, el, ) was a diocese In Ecclesiastical polity, church governance, a diocese or bishopric is the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a bishop. History In the later organizatio ...
, putting a with combined authority at the head of each of its old provinces. However, in most of the Empire, the old system continued to function until the 640s, when the eastern part of the Empire faced the onslaught of the Muslim
Caliphate A caliphate ( ar, خِلَافَة, ) is an Islamic state under the leadership of an Islamic steward with the title of caliph (; ar, خَلِيفَة ', ), a person considered a politico-religious successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad ...
. The rapid Muslim conquest of Syria and Egypt and consequent Byzantine losses in manpower and territory meant that the Empire found itself struggling for survival. In order to respond to this unprecedented crisis, the Empire was drastically reorganized. The remaining imperial territory in
Asia Minor Anatolia,, tr, Anadolu Yarımadası), and the Anatolian plateau. also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from 'almost' and 'island') is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of ...

Asia Minor
was divided into four large themes, and although some elements of the earlier civil administration survived, they were subordinated to the governing general or .


Origins

The origin and early nature of the themes has been heavily disputed amongst scholars. The very name is of uncertain etymology, but most scholars follow
Constantine Porphyrogennetos Constantine VII Flavius Porphyrogenitus (; 17/18 May 905 – 9 November 959) was the fourth Emperor An emperor (from la, imperator, via fro, empereor) is a monarch, and usually the sovereignty, sovereign ruler of an empire or another ...
, who records that it originates from Greek ("placement"). The date of their creation is also uncertain. For most of the 20th century, the establishment of the themes was attributed to the Emperor
Heraclius Heraclius ( el, Ἡράκλειος, ''Hērakleios''; c. 575 – 11 February 641), sometimes called Heraclius I, was the Byzantine emperor This is a list of the Byzantine emperors from the foundation of Constantinople la, Constantinop ...
(r. 610–641), during the
last A last is a mechanical form shaped like a human foot The foot (plural: feet) is an anatomical Anatomy (Greek ''anatomē'', 'dissection') is the branch of biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organism ...
of the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars. Most notable amongst the supporters of this thesis was
George Ostrogorsky Georgiy Aleksandrovich Ostrogorskiy (russian: Георгий Александрович Острогорский; 19 January 1902 – 24 October 1976), known in Serbian Serbian may refer to: * someone or something related to Serbia, a country in ...

George Ostrogorsky
who based this opinion on an extract from the chronicle of
Theophanes the Confessor Theophanes the Confessor ( el, Θεοφάνης Ὁμολογητής; c. 758/760 – March 12, 817/818) was a member of the Byzantine aristocracy who became a monk A monk (, from el, μοναχός, ''monachos'', "single, solitary" via Lati ...
mentioning the arrival of Heraclius "in the lands of the themes" for the year 622. According to Ostrogorsky, this "shows that the process of establishing troops (themes) in specific areas of Asia Minor has already begun at this time." This view has been objected to by other historians however, and more recent scholarship dates their creation later, to the period from the 640s to the 660s, under
Constans II Constans II ( gr, Κώνστας, ''Kōnstas''; 7 November 630 – 15 July 668), nicknamed "the Bearded" (ὁ Πωγωνᾶτος; ''ho Pogonâtos''), was emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 641 to 668. He was the last attested emperor to serve ...
(r. 641–668). It has further been shown that, contrary to Ostrogorsky's conception of the being established from the outset as distinct, well-defined regions where a held joint military and civil authority, the term originally seems to have referred exclusively to the armies themselves, and only in the later 7th or early 8th centuries did it come to be transferred to the districts where these armies were encamped as well. Tied to the question of chronology is also the issue of a corresponding social and military transformation. The traditional view, championed by Ostrogorsky, holds that the establishment of the themes also meant the creation of a new type of army. In his view, instead of the old force, heavily reliant on foreign mercenaries, the new Byzantine army was based on native farmer-soldiers living on state-leased military estates (compare the organization of the Sasanian ). More recent scholars however have posited that the formation of the themes did not constitute a radical break with the past, but rather a logical extension of pre-existing, 6th-century trends, and that its direct social impact was minimal.


First themes: 640s–770s

What is clear is that at some point in the mid-7th century, probably in the late 630s and 640s, the Empire's field armies were withdrawn to Anatolia, the last major contiguous territory remaining to the Empire, and assigned to the districts that became known as the themes. Territorially, each of the new themes encompassed several of the older provinces, and with a few exceptions, seems to have followed the old provincial boundaries. The first four themes were those of the Armeniacs, Anatolics and Thracesians, and the Opsician theme. The
Armeniac Theme The Armeniac Theme ( el, , ''Armeniakon hemaHema may refer to: * Hemā (mythology), a figure from Polynesian mythology * HEMA (store), a Dutch chain of stores * Hema (supermarket) (盒马), a List of supermarket chains in China, supermarket chain ...
(, ), first mentioned in 667, was the successor of the Army of Armenia. It occupied the old areas of the Pontus,
Armenia Minor Lesser Armenia ( hy, Փոքր Հայք, ''Pokr Hayk''; la, Armenia Minor, Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in So ...
and northern
Cappadocia Cappadocia (; also ''Capadocia''; tr, Kapadokya, grc, label=Ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past events
, with its capital at . The
Anatolic Theme The Anatolic Theme ( el, , ''Anatolikon hemaHema may refer to: * Hemā (mythology), a figure from Polynesian mythology * HEMA (store), a Dutch chain of stores * Hema (supermarket) (盒马), a List of supermarket chains in China, supermarket chai ...
(, '), first mentioned in 669, was the successor of the Army of the East (, ). It covered southern central Asia Minor, and its capital was
Amorium Amorium was a city in Phrygia, Asia Minor which was founded in the Hellenistic period, flourished under the Byzantine Empire, and declined after the Sack of Amorium, Arab sack of 838. It was situated on the Byzantine military road from Constanti ...
. Together, these two themes formed the first tier of defence of Byzantine Anatolia, bordering Muslim Armenia and Syria respectively. The
Thracesian Theme The Thracesian Theme ( el, Θρᾳκήσιον θέμα, ''Thrakēsion thema''), more properly known as the Theme of the Thracesians ( el, θέμα Θρᾳκησίων, ''thema Thrakēsiōn'', often simply , ''Thrakēsioi''), was a Byzantine them ...
(, ), first mentioned clearly as late as c. 740, was the successor of the Army of
Thrace Thrace (; el, Θράκη, Thráki; bg, Тракия, Trakiya; tr, Trakya) or Thrake is a geographical and historical region in Southeast Europe, now split among Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, which is bounded by the Balkan Mountains to th ...
, and covered the central western coast of Asia Minor (
Ionia Ionia (; Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the used in and the from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: (), Dark Ages (), the period (), and the period (). Ancient ...
,
Lydia Lydia (Lydian language, Lydian: ‎𐤮𐤱𐤠𐤭𐤣𐤠, ''Śfarda''; Aramaic: ''Lydia''; el, Λυδία, ''Lȳdíā''; tr, Lidya) was an Iron Age Monarchy, kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the mod ...

Lydia
and
Caria Caria (; from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 millio ...

Caria
), with its capital most likely at
Chonae Colossae (; Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million a ...
. The
Opsician Theme The Opsician Theme ( gr, θέμα Ὀψικίου, ''thema Opsikiou'') or simply Opsikion (Greek: , from la, Obsequium) was a Byzantine Empire, Byzantine Theme (country subdivision), theme (a military-civilian province) located in northwestern As ...
(, ), first mentioned in 680, was constituted from the imperial retinue (in
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
). It covered northwestern Asia Minor (
Bithynia Bithynia (; Koine Greek Koine Greek (, , Greek approximately ;. , , , lit. "Common Greek"), also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, Hellenistic or Biblical Greek, was the koiné language, common supra-regional form of Greek language, ...
,
Paphlagonia Paphlagonia (; grc, Παφλαγονία, ''Paphlagonía'', modern translit. ''Paflagonía''; tr, Paflagonya) was an ancient region on the Black Sea coast of north central Anatolia, situated between Bithynia to the west and Pontus (region), Pontu ...
and parts of
Galatia Galatia (; grc, Γαλατία, ''Galatía'', "Gaul Gaul ( la, Gallia) was a region of Western Europe Western Europe is the region of Europe Europe is a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally ...
), and was based at
Nicaea Nicaea or Nicea (; el, wikt:Νίκαια, Νίκαια, ''Níkaia'') was an ancient Greek city in northwestern Anatolia and is primarily known as the site of the First Council of Nicaea, First and Second Council of Nicaea, Second Councils of Nic ...
. Uniquely, its commander retained his title of (, "count"). In addition, the great naval division of the Carabisians or ''
KarabisianoiThe ''Karabisianoi'' ( el, Καραβισιάνοι), sometimes anglicized as the Carabisians, were the main forces of the Byzantine navy from the mid-7th century until the early 8th century. The name derives from the Greek ''karabos'' or ''karabis' ...
'' (, "people of the
hips In vertebrate anatomy, hip (or "coxa"Latin ''coxa'' was used by Celsus in the sense "hip", but by Pliny the Elder in the sense "hip bone" (Diab, p 77) in medical terminology) refers to either an anatomical region or a joint. The hip region is ...

hips
), first mentioned in 680, was probably formed of the remains of the Army of the
Illyricum Illyricum may refer to: * Illyria In classical antiquity, Illyria ( grc, Ἰλλυρία, ''Illyría'' or , ''Illyrís''; la, Illyria, ''Illyricum'') was a region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula inhabited by numerous tribes of peopl ...
or, more likely, the old ''
quaestura exercitusThe ''quaestura exercitus'' was an administrative district of the Byzantine Empire, Eastern Roman Empire with a seat in Odessus (present-day Varna, Bulgaria, Varna) established by Justinian I, Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565) on May 18, 536. Terri ...
''. It never formed a theme proper, but occupied parts of the southern coast of Asia Minor and the Aegean Islands, with its seat most likely at
Samos Samos (, also ; el, Σάμος ) is a Greece, Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, south of Chios, north of Patmos and the Dodecanese, and off the coast of western Turkey, from which it is separated by the -wide Mycale Strait. It is also a sep ...

Samos
. It provided the bulk of the
Byzantine navy The Byzantine navy was the navy, naval force of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. Like the empire it served, it was a direct continuation from its Roman navy, Imperial Roman predecessor, but played a far greater role in the defence and survival o ...
facing the new Arab fleets, which after the
Battle of the Masts The Battle of the Masts ( ar, معركة ذات الصواري, Ma‘rakat Dhāt al-Ṣawārī) or Battle of Phoenix was a crucial naval battle Naval warfare is human combat in and on the sea, the ocean, or any other battlespace involving a m ...
contested control of the Mediterranean with the Empire. In the event, the Carabisians would prove unsatisfactory in that role, and by 720 they had been disbanded in favour of a fully fledged naval theme, that of the
Cibyrrhaeots The Cibyrrhaeot Theme, more properly the Theme of the Cibyrrhaeots ( gr, θέμα Κιβυρραιωτῶν, thema Kibyrrhaiōtōn), was a Byzantine The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the con ...
(, ''Thema Kibyrrhaiotōn''), which encompassed the southern coasts of Asia Minor and the
Aegean islands The Aegean Islands ( el, Νησιά Αιγαίου, Nisiá Aigaíou; tr, Ege Adaları) are the group of islands in the Aegean Sea The Aegean Sea ; tr, Ege Denizi is an elongated Bay, embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located betwe ...
. The part of the region of
Thrace Thrace (; el, Θράκη, Thráki; bg, Тракия, Trakiya; tr, Trakya) or Thrake is a geographical and historical region in Southeast Europe, now split among Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, which is bounded by the Balkan Mountains to th ...
under Byzantine control was probably constituted as a theme at about 680, as a response to the threat, although for a time the command over Thrace appears to have been exercised by the Count of the ''Opsikion''. Successive campaigns by the emperors of the
Heraclian dynasty The Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Co ...
in Greece also led to the recovery of control of
Central Greece Continental Greece ( el, Στερεά Ελλάδα, ''Stereá Elláda''; formerly , ''Chérsos Ellás''), colloquially known as Roúmeli (Ρούμελη), is a traditional geographic regions of Greece, geographic region of Greece. In English the ...

Central Greece
from invaders, and to the establishment of the theme of Hellas there between 687 and 695.
Sicily (man) it, Siciliana (woman) , population_note = , population_blank1_title = , population_blank1 = , demographics_type1 = Ethnicity , demographics1_footnotes = , demographi ...

Sicily
too was formed as a theme by the end of the 7th century, but the imperial possessions in mainland
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps The Alps ; german: Alpen ; it, Alpi ; rm, Alps; sl, Alpe ) are the highest ...

Italy
remained under the exarch of Ravenna or the local ''doukes'', as did Byzantine Africa until the fall of
Carthage Carthage was the capital city of the ancient , on the eastern side of the in what is now . Carthage was the most important trading hub of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the most affluent cities of the . The city developed from a n colony ...

Carthage
in 698. At the same time,
Crete Crete ( el, Κρήτη, translit=, Modern Modern may refer to: History *Modern history Human history, also known as world history, is the description of humanity's past. It is informed by archaeology Archaeology or archeology ...

Crete
and the imperial exclave of Cherson in the
Crimea Crimea; crh, Къырым, translit=Kirim/Qırım; grc, Κιμμερία/Ταυρική, translit=Kimmería/Taurikḗ is a peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from 'almost' and 'island') is a landform A landform is a natural ...

Crimea
formed independent '' archontiai''. Thus, by the turning of the century, the themes had become the dominant feature of imperial administration. Their large size and power however made their generals prone to revolt, as had been evidenced in the turbulent period 695–715, and would again during the great revolt of
Artabasdos Artavasdos or Artabasdos ( el, or , from Armenian language, Armenian: Արտավազդ, ''Artavazd'', ''Ardavazt''), Latinisation of names, Latinized as Artabasdus, was a Byzantine Empire, Byzantine general of Armenians, Armenian descent who seiz ...
in 741–742. The suppression of Artabasdos' revolt heralded the first significant changes in the Anatolian themes: the over-mighty ''Opsikion'' was broken up with the creation of two new themes, the
Bucellarian Theme The Bucellarian Theme ( el, Βουκελλάριον θέμα, ''Boukellarion thema''), more properly known as the Theme of the Bucellarians ( el, θέμα Βουκελλαρίων, ''thema Boukellariōn'') was a Byzantine The Byzantine Empi ...
and the
Optimates The Optimates (; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Ro ...
, while the role of imperial guard was assumed by a new type of professional force, the imperial '' tagmata''.


Height of the theme system, 780s–950s

Despite the prominence of the themes, it was some time before they became the basic unit of the imperial administrative system. Although they had become associated with specific regions by the early 8th century, it took until the end of the 8th century for the civil fiscal administration to begin being organized around them, instead of following the old provincial system. This process, resulting in unified control over both military and civil affairs of each theme by its ''strategos'', was complete by the mid-9th century, and is the "classical" thematic model mentioned in such works as the '' Klētorologion'' and the ''
De Administrando Imperio ''De Administrando Imperio'' ("On the Governance of the Empire") is the Latin title of a Greek-language work written by the 10th-century Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine VII. The Greek title of the work is ("To own son Romanos"). It is a dom ...
''. At the same time, the need to protect the Anatolian heartland of Byzantium from the Arab raids led to the creation, in the later 8th and early 9th centuries, of a series of small frontier districts, the '' kleisourai'' or ''kleisourarchiai'' ("defiles, enclosures"). The term was previously used to signify strategically important, fortified mountain passages, and was now expanded to entire districts which formed separate commands under a ''kleisourarchēs'', tasked with guerrilla warfare and locally countering small to mid-scale incursions and raids. Gradually, most of these were elevated to full themes.


Decline of the system, 960s–1070s

With the beginning of the Byzantine offensives in the East and the Balkans in the 10th century, especially under the warrior-emperors
Nikephoros II Nikephoros II Phokas (; – 11 December 969), Latinized Nicephorus II Phocas, was Byzantine Emperor from 963 to 969. His brilliant military exploits contributed to the resurgence of the Byzantine Empire during the 10th century. His reign, how ...
(r. 963–969),
John I Tzimiskes John I Tzimiskes (; – 10 January 976) was the senior Byzantine Emperor from 11 December 969 to 10 January 976. An intuitive and successful general, he strengthened the Empire and expanded its borders during his short reign. Background ...
(r. 969–976) and
Basil II Basil II Porphyrogenitus ( gr, Βασίλειος πορφυρογέννητος, translit=Basileios porphyrogennētos;) and, most often, the porphyrogennetos, Purple-born ( gr, ὁ πορφυρογέννητος, translit=ho porphyrogennetos ...
(r. 976–1025), newly gained territories were also incorporated into themes, although these were generally smaller than the original themes established in the 7th and 8th centuries. At this time, a new class of themes, the so-called "minor" () or "Armenian" themes () appear, which Byzantine sources clearly differentiate from the traditional "great" or "Roman" themes (). Most consisted merely of a fortress and its surrounding territory, with a junior ''stratēgos'' (called by the Arabs and by the Armenians) as a commander and about 1,000 men, chiefly infantry, as their garrison. As their name reveals, they were mostly populated by
Armenians Armenians ( hy, հայեր, ''Romanization of Armenian, hayer'' ) are an ethnic group native to the Armenian Highlands of Western Asia. Armenians constitute the main population of Armenia and the ''de facto'' independent Republic of Artsakh, A ...
, either indigenous or settled there by the Byzantine authorities. One of their peculiarities was the extremely large number of officers (the theme of Charpezikion alone counted 22 senior and 47 junior ''tourmarchai''). While well suited for defence, the "Armenian" themes were incapable of responding to major invasions or undertake sustained offensive campaigns on their own. Thus, from the 960s, more and more professional regiments, both from the old ''tagmata'' and newly raised formations, were stationed along the border. To command them as well as coordinate the forces of the small frontier themes, a number of large regional commands ("" or ""), under a ''
doux Doux may refer to: * Doux, Ardennes, a French commune in the Ardennes department * Doux, Deux-Sèvres, a French commune in the Deux-Sèvres department * Doux (wine), a variety of sparkling wine See also

* Megas doux * Dux (disambiguation) {{ ...

doux
'' or ''
katepano The ''katepánō'' ( el, κατεπάνω, lit. " he oneplaced at the top", or " the topmost") was a senior Byzantine The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire ...
'', were set up. In the East, the three original such commands, set up by John Tzimiskes, were those of the ''doukes'' of
Antioch Antioch on the Orontes (; grc, Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐπὶ Ὀρόντου, ''Antiókheia hē epì Oróntou''; also Syrian Antioch) grc-koi, Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐπὶ Ὀρόντου; or Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐπὶ Δάφνῃ ...
,
Chaldia Chaldia ( el, Χαλδία, ''Khaldia'') was a historical region located in mountainous interior of the eastern Black Sea, northeast Anatolia Anatolia,, tr, Anadolu Yarımadası), and the Anatolian plateau. also known as Asia Minor, is a ...
and
Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ( grc, Μεσοποταμία ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in th ...
. As Byzantium expanded into
Greater Armenia Greater Armenia ( hy, Մեծ Հայք, ''Mets Hayk) is the name given to the state of Kingdom of Armenia (antiquity), Armenia that emerged on the Armenian Highlands under the reign of King Artaxias I at the turn of the second century BC. The ...
in the early 11th century, these were complemented or replaced by the commands of
Iberia The Iberian Peninsula , ** * Aragonese language, Aragonese and Occitan language, Occitan: ''Peninsula Iberica'' ** ** * french: Péninsule Ibérique * mwl, Península Eibérica * eu, Iberiar penintsula also known as Iberia, is a penin ...
,
Vaspurakan Vaspurakan (also transliterated as Vasbouragan in Western Armenian Western Armenian (Classical Armenian orthography, Classical spelling: , ''arevmdahayerēn'') is one of the two standard language, standardized forms of Armenian language, Moder ...
,
Edessa Edessa (; grc, Ἔδεσσα, Édessa) was an ancient city (''polis'') in Upper Mesopotamia, founded during the Hellenistic period by King Seleucus I Nicator (), founder of the Seleucid Empire. It later became capital of the Kingdom of Osroene ...
and
Ani Ani ( hy, Անի; grc-gre, Ἄνιον, ''Ánion''; la, Abnicum; tr, Ani) is a ruined medieval Armenian city now situated in 's province of , next to the closed with . Between 961 and 1045, it was the of the n kingdom that covered much o ...

Ani
. In the same vein, the "Armenian" themes seem to have been placed under a single ''strategos'' in the mid-11th century. The series of soldier-emperors culminating in Basil II led to a situation where by 1025 Byzantium was more powerful than any of its enemies. At the same time, the mobile, professional forces of the '' tagmata'' gained in importance over the old thematic armies (and fleets) of the interior, which soon began to be neglected. Indeed, from the early 11th century military service was increasingly commuted to cash payments. While the frontier ducates were able to meet most local threats, the dissolution of the old theme-based defensive system deprived the Byzantine defensive system of any strategic depth. Coupled with increasing reliance on foreign mercenaries and the forces of allied and vassal states, as well as the revolts and civil wars resulting from the widening rift between the civilian bureaucracy in Constantinople and the land-holding military elites (the ''
dynatoi The ''dynatoi'' ( el, δυνατοί, "the powerful") was a legal term in the Byzantine Empire used from the 10th century on, denoting the senior levels of civil, military and ecclesiastic (including monastic) officialdom, who usually, but not alway ...
''), by the time of the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Byzantine army was already undergoing a severe crisis and collapsed completely in the battle's aftermath.


Change and decline: 11th–12th centuries

The Komnenian era saw a brief restoration of the empire's fortunes as the force now known as the 'Komnenian army' was established by
Alexios I Komnenos Alexios I Komnenos ( grc-gre, Ἀλέξιος Ά Κομνηνός, – 15 August 1118), Latinized Latinisation or Latinization can refer to: * Latinisation of names, the practice of rendering a non-Latin name in a Latin style * Latinisatio ...

Alexios I Komnenos
, marking a decisive break with the theme system. The new force was highly centralised in the person of the emperor and the ruling dynasty, and provided an element of stability which characterised the
Komnenian restoration The Komnenian restoration is the term used by historians to describe the military, financial, and territorial recovery of the Byzantine Empire The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium, was the contin ...
. It was noticeably more heavily reliant on mercenaries such as the
Varangian guard The Varangian Guard ( el, Τάγμα τῶν Βαράγγων, ''Tágma tōn Varángōn'') was an elite unit of the Byzantine Army The Byzantine army was the primary military body of the Byzantine The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as ...
than the previous army. The ''strategoi'' increasingly lost power and the themes lost much of their military character. The independence they had previously enjoyed as a means to deal with local issues was being steadily lost. The Byzantine army of the Komnenian era, however, never managed to field the manpower of the themes in their heyday, and the new system proved more expensive to maintain in the long run. It also relied on a succession of strong soldier-emperors to be effective. With the death of
Manuel I Komnenos Manuel I Komnenos ( el, Μανουήλ Α' Κομνηνός; 28 November 1118 – 24 September 1180), Latinized Latinisation or Latinization can refer to: * Latinisation of names, the practice of rendering a non-Latin name in a Latin style * L ...
in 1180, a new period of decline set in.


Late Byzantine ''themata''

The neglect under the
Angeloi The Angelos family (; gr, Ἄγγελος), feminine form Angelina (), plural Angeloi (), was a Byzantine Greek Medieval Greek (also known as Middle Greek or Byzantine Greek) is the stage of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern ...
dynasty and the weakening of central authority made the themes increasingly irrelevant in the late 12th century. Regional civil authorities such as the 'despotates' grew in power as central authority collapsed, rendering the themes moribund by the onset of the
Palaiologos The Palaiologos ( Palaiologoi; grc-gre, Παλαιολόγος, pl. , female version Palaiologina; grc-gre, Παλαιολογίνα), also found in English-language literature as Palaeologus or Palaeologue, was a Byzantine Greek Medie ...
dynasty's rule.


Organization

The term ''thema'' was ambiguous, referring both to a form of military tenure and to an administrative division. A theme was an arrangement of plots of land given for farming to the soldiers. The soldiers were still technically a military unit, under the command of a
strategos Bust of unnamed ''Strategos'' with Hadrian.html"_;"title="Corinthian_helmet;_Hadrian">Corinthian_helmet;_Hadrianic_Roman_copy_of_a_Greek_sculpture_of_c._400_BC ''Strategos'',_plural_''strategoi'',_ Corinthian_helmet;_Hadrianic_Roman_copy_of_a_G ...
, and they did not own the land they worked as it was still controlled by the state. Therefore, for its use the soldiers' pay was reduced. By accepting this proposition, the participants agreed that their descendants would also serve in the military and work in a theme, thus simultaneously reducing the need for unpopular
conscription Conscription, sometimes called the draft in the United States, is the mandatory enlistment of people in a national service National service is a system of either compulsory or voluntary government service, usually military service Mili ...

conscription
as well as cheaply maintaining the military. It also allowed for the settling of conquered lands, as there was always a substantial addition made to public lands during a conquest. The commander of a theme, however, did not only command his soldiers. He united the civil and military jurisdictions in the territorial area in question. Thus the division set up by
Diocletian Diocletian (; la, Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus; born Diocles; 22 December c. 244 – 3 December 311) was from 284 to 305. Born to a family of low status in , Diocletian rose through the ranks of the military to become a commander of ...
between civil governors (''praesides'' etc.) and military commanders (''duces'' etc.) was abolished, and the Empire returned to a system much more similar to that of the Republic or the Principate, where provincial governors had also commanded the armies in their area. The following table illustrates the thematic structure as found in the Thracesian Theme, c. 902-936:


List of the themes between c. 660 and 930

This list includes the large "traditional" themes established in the period from the inception of the theme system in c. 660 to the beginning of the great conquests in c. 930 and the creation of the new, smaller themes. Notes:
naval theme (in Greek , θέμα ναυτικόν)
§ Originally established as a ''kleisoura''


List of new themes, 930s–1060s

These were the new major or minor themes (provinces), established during the Byzantine conquests, in the East (the so-called "Armenian" themes or generalships, ), in Italy and in the Balkans.


Later themes, 12th–13th centuries


References


Sources

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


External links

{{Terms for types of administrative territorial entities Themes of the Byzantine Empire, Types of administrative division Military units and formations of the Byzantine Empire