Northern Beholder

Where history and gaming collide.

Month: August, 2012

Byzantium, the Underappreciated Empire IV: A Legacy Undone

Despite the great individual skill and training of the Byzantine soldier, despite the intelligent and competent leadership and tactics that allowed them to score major victories, the culture clash between the Byzantine manner of fighting – ambush, misdirection, guerrilla-style strikes – and the more straightforward, honour-based mindset of the knights of western Europe who made up the First Crusade meant that the impression carried back to the feudal kingdoms which became world conquerors was a thoroughly negative one. Byzantium would generate no martial legends like Rome before it, and its legacy would be largely forgotten, because of what amounted to bad P.R.

In fairness, though, it’s not quite that simple. While the negative impressions recorded by the chroniclers of the Crusades would go on to form the basis of Western opinion on Byzantium for centuries, there were other factors that deserve mention.

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Byzantium, the Underappreciated Empire III: Byzantine Bribery

When last we left our favourite Roman successor state, there had been a plague, two devastating decades-long wars, and the loss of the Empire’s richest lands.  Now Byzantium can only afford to maintain a smaller number of soldiers, each of whom takes so long to train and equip that he is quite literally too valuable to risk in a fight.  How then will the Byzantines last over five more centuries?

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Posting Schedule

Just a small announcement.  I’ve figured out rather quickly that binging on posts and then going silent until inspiration strikes is a poor way to run a blog, so from here on out, Northern Beholder updates on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule!  Check back in tomorrow at noon EST for part III of ‘Byzantium, the Underappreciated Empire’.  Thanks for reading!

Byzantium, the Underappreciated Empire II: The Byzantine Soldier

Before getting in to Byzantium’s use of its soldiers, we must first understand what those soldiers were.  A large factor in the Byzantine unwillingness to engage was the very value of the men it relied upon for its protection.

Byzantium maintained a professional standing army, like its Roman predecessor.  Unlike the typical Roman soldier, however, who served as heavy infantry, the Byzantine trooper was more often than not on horse.  Lavishly equipped with a heavy coat of chainmail, steel helm, shield, sword and lance, on a well-bred horse with its own leather head and chestguards, you could almost – if you squinted a bit – mistake the Byzantine soldier for a typical European knight of the early medieval era.

Right up until the Byzantine horseman whipped out his bow.

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Byzantium, the Underappreciated Empire I: Introduction

Ahh, Byzantium.  Here is an ancient civilization near and dear to my heart, mostly because I love an underdog. For those of you that haven’t devoted years of your life to studying the cultures of old, the Byzantine Empire (Byzantium to its friends) was the successor to Rome.  (Dedicated historians avert your eyes now; I am about to gloss over a lot of detail for the sake of brevity.)

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Games, as a hobby, have been with us ever since we refined our hunting and gathering techniques to the point where we had more than ten minutes of spare time in a day.  They have ranged from simple children’s pasttimes to enormously complex rulesets that simulate entire fictional worlds.  Some favour intellectual prowess; some favour physical ability. Others allow you to thrive through creativity and unorthodox thinking. Whatever form they take, games have accompanied us throughout the ages, and we have loved them for it.

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History is everywhere, and affects us every day.  Decisions made thousands of years ago by people that neither you or perhaps even your ancestors ever met have reverberated through time to impact our decisions today.  The world was shaped by those that came before us, and we live in their shadow, just as those that come after us will live in ours.

History, in short, is fascinating, whether you study what happened, why it happened, how it happened, or who it happened to.  And that’s just history itself; there are whole fields of study devoted to examining how history is viewed, claimed, manipulated and exploited by the descendants of those who made it.  There are a million million stories to be found in humanity’s rise from the caves to the stars, all of them worth hearing.

I have a few I want to tell.