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Recap / A Thing of Vikings Chapter 62 "A Bringer Of New Things"

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Book II, Chapter 31

The Byzantine Theme system (singular: thema) originated during the intense warfare facing the Byzantine Empire during the 600s AD. The theme system was conceived of and designed to meet the logistical and manpower needs of the diminished Roman-Byzantine Army. While the system evolved dramatically over the ensuing seven centuries until the final collapse of the Empire in the late 1300s AD, the general structure and concept was simple: each thema was (ideally) a singular district under the (equally ideally) unified military and civilian command of the local governing general (Strategos). In that district, there were specific lands (stratiotika ktemata) that were under direct military rulership; these lands were used to provide for the upkeep of soldiers in the army.

This created a group of soldier-farmers, the Strateia, who would work the stratiotika ktemata in time of peace, and join the army in times of war, or offer material and logistical support to the army directly (in contrast with the civilian farmers, the georgoi). The status of Strateia was hereditary, and was intended to maintain the manpower and logistical needs of the Byzantine military in perpetuity. Overall, the theme system was flexible and easily expanded; newly (re)captured lands could be granted to pensioners from the army, whose sons would then join military service. There were other benefits as well to being part of the Strateia—exemption from certain taxes, and pay and state-sponsored material support for taking part in military campaigns and aiding in public works.

The Theme system arguably reached its height under Emperor Basil II in the early 1000s, providing, provisioning, and manning a force of 110,000 men, the largest the Byzantine Army had reached in over five centuries. It then quickly cratered, as Basil's land taxes and protectionary laws were undone by his immediate successors under pressure from the Dynatoi, the aristocratic magnate class. Much of the stratiotika ktemata were acquired by the Dynatoi over the ensuing decades for their large-scale farming estates (latifundium), weakening the theme armies and their support. By the beginning of the Dragon Era in the AD 1040s, the Byzantine Army could only muster 60,000 soldiers, with over 20% of those being foreign mercenaries.

— 'Constantinople: The Child of Rome's Empire, Venice, Italy, 1725''

Tropes That Appear In This Chapter:

  • Disproportionate Retribution: For the failure in the invasion of Berk, Harthacnut has all the men who retreated arrested, their land confiscated and their families sold as thralls as compensation for the coin lost in the ransom, the laws against selling Christians ignored.
  • Gratuitous Norse: When William FitzOsbern tries to speak Norse it shows that he isn't well versed in that language.
    William FitzOsbern: My Norse not good very, but I speak little.
  • Malicious Slander: Alvin and Delilah spread rumors that Berk has been treating the Christians of Eire horribly.


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