Sylloge Tacticorum.

A scene of Byzantine warfare from the Madrid Skylitzes.

A scene of Byzantine warfare from the Madrid Skylitzes.

Medievalists has some interesting excerpts from the Sylloge Tacticorum, a Byzantine handbook on military tactics.

Besides noting the standard ways of attacking and defending, the author of this manual also includes several methods to cunningly strike at an enemy, although he does not personally approve of them. He writes:

We compiled this book judging that these stratagems and others of the kind should be recorded not in order to be used by us against the enemy (for I believe that they are unworthy even to be mentioned in a Christian context), but so that our generals may be able to guard against them by knowing exactly the cunning plans of the enemy concerning food and drink, especially when they encamp in enemy territory.

However, it should also be noted that the author usually does not give any defence against these schemes, which might indicate that he added them in so they could be used by the Byzantine generals – and that his moral concerns might have been exaggerated. Readers will note that these methods can be considered a form of chemical warfare, which would be targeted at the enemy when they were not expecting it.

Having read the article, I will agree that all the tactics listed are extraordinarily nasty, some with a propensity to bite the hand of those using them. The seven tactics are:

1) Putting the plague into bread loaves.

2) Poisoning the wine.

3) Sabotaging the water supply.

4) Destroying the land.

5) Withering the trees.

6) Attacking the horses with chemicals.

7) Burning weapons without fire.

For all the details of the text, you’ll need to head over to Medievalists.

Other interesting things at Medievalists:

New Game!

Released on 13 February, Kingdom Come: Deliverance is an action role-playing game set in the early fifteenth-century Holy Roman Empire that has striven for historically accurate and highly detailed content.


This fairly unusual method of gameplay has attracted a lot of attention. As another reviewer said: ‘There’s no heroic swordplay here, no wizards casting fireballs, no clerics raising the dead, no orcs or dragons. This is the story of an actual civil war that raged across Bohemia in the first decade of the 15th century. Your part in it is that of a nobody struggling to survive in a land full of noblemen who couldn’t care less if you lived or died, and fellow peasants who would stab you in the back for a crust of bread.’

You can read about the game in detail, with multiple reviews here.

Collection of 3,000 medieval manuscripts now online.

Valhalla Rising: The Construction of Cultural Identity through Norse Myth in Scandinavian and German Pagan Metal.


  1. says

    If the other soldiers don’t get you, the smallpox or a minor infection will! Aaah, the “good old days” -- the libertarian paradise, where there is no government to tell people what to do…

  2. says


    where there is no government to tell people what to do…

    Oh, yes there were, a fucktonne of ’em. They were called kingdoms. Government by any other name…

  3. says


    I wish these MMOs were realistic: you get the shits from bad water and can’t fight, but they smash your skull anyway.

    From reading the article and reviews, this one is. You have to pay attention to all the same shit the actual people did -- you had to find time to eat, rest, take a shit and all that while not being axed in the head, and managing to still spear other people.

  4. says

    You have to pay attention to all the same shit the actual people did — you had to find time to eat, rest, take a shit and all that while not being axed in the head, and managing to still spear other people.

    What kind of person finds that “fun”? Other than a sociopath who likes smashing in people’s heads, I mean.

  5. says


    What kind of person finds that “fun”?

    I don’t know. Someone with an interest in history? Someone who wants a clearer idea of what it was like for hundreds of generations of people? You’re very immersed in war, Marcus, you read about it a lot, and post about it a lot. So do a lot of other people. So, I’m sure there’s interest in a game which isn’t utterly focused on escapism.

  6. lumipuna says

    I will agree that all the tactics listed are extraordinarily nasty

    I take that as subtle humor, considering that these were likely originally meant as jokes or literary decoration in an otherwise serious treatise?

    Plague bread -- sheer fantasy, likely even to people back then
    Poison wine -- plausible, but seems impractical
    Poisoning the wells -- possible, but could backfire
    Poisoning the fields -- seems highly impractical
    Poisoning the trees -- sheer fantasy, and also what’s the point?
    Pepper-spraying horses -- plausible but seems impractical
    Cold-combusting paste -- sheer fantasy, or maybe a veiled reference to Liquid Fire?

    I highly doubt any ethical considerations would’ve prevented these from becoming popular if they actually worked.

  7. says

    No, they aren’t fucking jokes. People who wrote war manuals weren’t prone to them. All the tactics are well known, many of them devastatingly effective, and they were often used. Of course, a knowledge of history is helpful.

  8. lumipuna says

    You mean literally? I know grain storages and crops in field have been burned to starve the enemy, but how much salt you’d need to buy and transport to quickly poison the fields of a province?

    I concede that wells and food supplies were occasionally poisoned, and plague was sometimes deliberately spread -- though hardly by baking bread from snake soup.

  9. lumipuna says

    I’m not really about to argue this, but at best those seven items are like Donald Trump’s policy agenda -- meant to be taken “seriously, not literally”.

  10. says

    @Marcus #6 Oh c’mon, man. You have played Witcher, so you no doubt gutted and beheaded a lot of generic bandits and soldiers in the progress. And since you also played the datadisks, you no doubt enjoyed the game with all its goryness. This is along the same lines, only the game lacks fantasy elements and is more focused on realism.
    And some of the people who play it are interested in HEMA and medievalism, in addition to fantasy, for example.

    I must say in all honesty that this pissed me off:

    a big problem. There are no people of colour in the game

    Why the fuck is it a “big” problem? The game is deliberately set in a specific historical context in which we know with reasonable certainty were no people of colour, definitively not as the term is used today. It is a game made by a czech developer and about czech history with prespecified goal of being as realistic as reasonably possible. Complaining that there are no people of colour in there is just as silly as complaining that there are no white people in Black Panther (a movie which I have not seen yet but I hope I will see and enjoy).

    Diversity is important, but this particular complaint in this particular instance smacks of Anglocentrism, where everyone is required to atone for US and UK racist and colonial past and its present manifestations. But small nations can have their own culture without being burdened by such collective guilt just because they are considered to be “white” in modern world. I am not much inclined to national pride, but fuck everyone if they think that I and my countrymen are not allowed to have any ever and that we are not allowed to use our land’s and nation’s history in a game and achieve success and that we are only allowed to make products that are finely tuned to USA’s social climate.

    I have no problem acknowledging that this is a big problem:

    writer and Warhorse co-founder Daniel Vavra’s. He has been a vocal supporter of GamerGate and involved in antagonistic exchanges on Twitter.

    Asshoies are everywhere. It is also possible, or even likely, that Daniel Vavra is a racist and/or a mysoginist. We have certainly no shortage of both.

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