Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Army Reform Of Alexius Comnenus & The Origin Of The Ottoman "Mehter Marsi"

Back in May 2010 I was reading the Alexiad of Anna Comnena, I came across an episode in her father's career, the army reform and the later Ottoman army seemed to reflect his new tactics...

From 1110-16 AD the Seljuk Sultan of Rum, Shahanshah, led a series of campaigns against the empire.

To deal with the fighting style of the Turks and consolidate the land regained from them, Alexius retrained the army.
He developed a new battle formation, so that the army would always face the oncoming Turkish horse-archers at an angle, forcing them to fire at the shield side of the army, reducing their effect.

By 1116 Alexius had won the war, Shahanshah had made a treaty with Alexius to remove the Seljuks from Anatolia but he was captured by his brother Masud and later murdered at the town of Konya.

Alexius had tried to intervene but it was too late, and so returned to his base at the fort of Philomelion, rescueing prisoners and taking the local Christians back with him.

Anna wrote of a multitude being evacuated and brought with the army back to the north-west.
She wrote of births and deaths occuring as this throng marched on.

This army, Anna wrote, was kept in step by "the tunes of flutes and when they were on the move it seemed as if they were not moving and when they were not on the move it seemed as if they were moving."
As well as this, she describes how "from a distance it looked like a city with bastions on the move and when it changed direction this whole body moved as one, like a huge beast."
My understanding of the marching formation of the army Alexius led on campaign:

G= Left Vangaurd, Constantine Gabras, governor of Philadelphia.
M= Right Vanguard, Monastris
X= Under Alexius direct command, within are the evacuees and freed prisoners from the Anatolikon province.
T= Left Rearguard, Tzipoureles
A= Right Rearguard, Ampelas

Clearly new style of marching an army is mirrored later by the Ottomans, their famous 'Mehter Marsi'.

However, the following will be of interest.
Reading "The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire" by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 1, "The extent and military force of the Roman empire, in the age of the Antonines, Exercise ",  paragraph 38...

" The soldiers were diligently instructed to march, ... and to move to the sound of flutes, in the Pyrrhic or martial dance. "

So, it does seem unlikely that what Alexius did with the army was new. Rather, he revived an ancient martial tradition of the Greeks and Romans.

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