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It’s in the Water: Byzantine Borderlands and the Village War
By Jason Moralee
Humanities, Vol.7:3 (2018)
Abstract: This essay examines Byzantine military manuals created between the sixth to the tenth centuries for what they can reveal about Byzantine imperial attitudes toward the landscapes of war and those who inhabit them. Of foremost concern in these sources is the maintenance of ‘security’ (Greek: asphaleia) by commanders with the necessary quality of ‘experience’ (Greek: peira).
Experience meant knowing how to best exploit the land, including the villages under Byzantine authority, in the prosecution of war. Exploitation in the name of security involved destroying villages, using villages and their inhabitants in ambushes, poisoning and seizing crops, evacuating villages, and using villages for the billeting of, at times undisciplined, soldiers.
Villages were thus central to a Byzantine military strategy that is identified here as the ‘village war,’ a strategy that is analogous to security strategies evident in more recent conflicts. Through the juxtaposition of premodern and modern modalities of war, this essay intends to be a pointed reminder that the village war has deep roots in imperialist thought, and that the consequences of the village war profoundly reshape the lives of those caught up in its midst, particularly the peasantry.