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A Critical Commentary on 'The Taktika' of Leo VI, by John Haldon

Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library / Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. x, 582. Diagr., tables, sources, biblio., indices. $40.00 paper. ISBN: 0884023915.

A Reader’s Guide to the Taktika

The Taktika, for centuries the main Byzantine handbook of military history, thought, and practice was compiled around AD 900 by the Emperor Leo VI. An excellent translation by the outstanding Jesuit scholar George T. Dennis, was issued by Dumbarton Oaks in 2010, and this commentary by Princeton’s Prof. Haldon appeared four years later.

Prof. Haldon opens with a long introduction. He explains the circumstances and purposes that led the emperor to compose what he called “A Short Instruction of the Tactics of War", discusses the sources and language, and gives us a concise overview of Byzantine society and military institutions during Leo’s reign.

Haldon then gives us a close look at Leo’s sources, usage, and vocabulary, and the goals of each of his 20 “Constitutions” (i.e., chapters). Haldon ranges widely, and so covers not only “purely” military subjects, such as Leo’s insistence on developing effective archers, the recruiting, training, and sustaining of troops, the roles of the general, and more. He even includes social commentary and a look at the religious aspects of Leo’s writings; in an era of frequent Islamic assaults on the Christian Empire, the Emperor advocates the adoption of “holy war” on the Moslem model.

Essential reading for anyone specializing in the Byzantine Empire, this commentary, and The Taktika itself, are mines of valuable information and insights for anyone interested in the military practice of Late Antiquity and the so-called “Dark Ages.”


Note: A Critical Commentary on The Taktika of Leo VI is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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