For my initial Byzantine project, I decide to focus on their military. And in doing so, I came across a book that was written by General Maurice that was titled The Strategikon. This book is a military hand guide for generals about the tactics and stratagems of war that allowed the Byzantines to learn from their enemies and failures. Through reading The Strategikon I learned a lot about how they conducted their wars and battles. But for this paper I decided to look at it different direction, similar to my original topic. Instead of how people conduct war, why do they conduct war? And for this question, I have 3 civilizations in mind that I would like to use for examples.
The first civilization I want to look at is the Aztec tribe who inhabited current day Mexico. The Aztecs are commonly thought of and referred to as warlike tribe that made its living out of waging war with neighboring tribes. The source of the need for war for the Aztec Empire came from a constant demand for human sacrifices. They believed that God’s fed upon and were nourished by human hearts. This was especially true to them when I came to the God of the Sun. There was also the belief that the bodies of certain victims they sacrificed where the embodiments of gods. So the Aztec empire had the idea of taking these practices of human sacrifices and conducting them on a large scale so that the Gods that they worship would have an endless supply of energy coming to them so that they may remain full and full of vigor. And to do this, the sacrifices needed to be made regularly. And to do this, the Aztec would wage a form of controlled wars or battle in predetermined battlefields with opponents for the purpose of gathering healthy prisoners for them to use.
The second civilization hat I wanted to look at for this comparison was the Ottoman Empire. There are a few reasons I wanted to look into the Ottomans, the main reason being is because they were the next focus for the semester. Their ideas of wars came from passed on traditions of pre-Islamic Arab and Turco-Mongol. These ideas were recorded with writings that were based on the Koran and further explained and incorporated into their Sharia, the holy law of Islam. So with this in mind, we can see how the two forms of war arose and were constantly in action throughout the history of the Ottoman Empire. The first was an endless conflict that consisted of raids and retaliations that happened between the undefined borders of tribes, but also all along the frontier borders of the Ottoman Empire. The other were Imperial Campaigns that had to be religiously approved.
For the third and final civilizations, I thought I would return to back to the source of our current studies, the Byzantines. After the loss of Rome, the Byzantines began campaigns to reclaim lands that they had lost prior to Justinian I becoming the Emperor. The Reclamation conquests began in 553 as general Belisarius was sent out toward the provinces of Africa that had been captured by the Vandals in 429. There was also another conquest that went towards Italy with the goal of attempting to reclaim Rome. Around the same time was also when the Byzantines were at war with the Persians which they eventually turned the tides in and came out on top after a number of desperate moves.
And with that we have our three civilizations and who they went to war. At first they all seem quite diverse in just the methods alone as to how they went to war made it seem unlikely that there was any sort of pattern between them, but I saw one. I believe that why they go to war has a direct influence on how they conduct war. For the Aztec’s, they were after sacrifices to keep their gods healthy and full of energy. And to do this, they focused on taking prisoners rather than outright killing. In the Ottoman case it was more of a tradition as to why they go to war. Their high held religious beliefs of Islam combined with the nomadic heritage helps explain both of their forms of war. And then we have the Byzantines who sought to reclaim their lost lands. They took their defeats very seriously and would study the enemy tactics and weapons to modify them for their own use so that they may have better success in the future in defending their homelands. All these examples show the same idea, that why a civilization conducts war has an impact on how they conduct war.