In this episode, we discuss the reign of Leo VI (the Wise) (866–912, r. 886–912), Byzantine emperor and strategist, with Dr Georgios Chatzelis from the New Europe College: Institute for Advance Study (NEC) and Centre for Advanced Study Sofia (CAS).
Leo VI predates the 18th century flourishing of Western thinking about strategy by almost 900 years – although it is the translation of the Greek word strategía in his treatise (confusingly called The Tactic) that became the word ‘strategy’ in modern Western languages. Occupying a unique position between East and West, Leo VI’s empire was shaped by its Roman heritage and the Arab threats it faced. Leo differentiated between tactics, which were about conduct on the battlefield, and strategy, which was about how other skills required of a commander could be combined for defence.
Emperor Leo’s book was regarded by Byzantine generals as a sort of law of war. It places war within a political context, describes how wars should be fought – including matters of ethics – and comments on the way the Byzantine Empire’s enemies fought, seeking to ensure that his commanders kept the moral high ground. Therefore, and despite the passing of more than a millennium, Leo’s contribution and understanding of strategy remain recognisable to a modern audience.
Beatrice Heuser, The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
George T. Dennis, The Taktika of Leo VI: Text, Translation and Commentary, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2014.
John Haldon, A Critical Commentary on the Taktika of Leo VI, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2014.
Georgios Chatzelis, Byzantine Military Manuals as Literary Works and Practical Handbooks: The Case of the Tenth-Century Sylloge Tacticorum, Routledge, 2019.
Senior Associate Fellow
Director, Military Sciences