Anatolic Theme

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Theme of the Anatolics
Άνατολικόν θέμα, θέμα Άνατολικῶν
Theme of the Byzantine Empire
640s/660s – ca. 1078
Location of Anatolic Theme
The Byzantine themes of Asia Minor in circa 740
Historical era Middle Ages
 -  Established before 669
 -  Fall to the Seljuks. ca. 1078
Today part of  Turkey

The Anatolic Theme (Greek: Άνατολικόν [θέμα], Anatolikon [thema]), more properly known as the Theme of the Anatolics (Greek: θέμα Άνατολικῶν, thema Anatolikōn) was a Byzantine theme (a military-civilian province) in central Asia Minor (modern Turkey). From its establishment, it was the largest and senior-most of the themes, and its military governors (stratēgoi) were powerful individuals, several of them rising to the imperial throne or launching failed rebellions to capture it. The theme and its army played an important role in the Arab–Byzantine wars of the 7th–10th centuries, after which it enjoyed a period of relative peace that lasted until its conquest by the Seljuk Turks in the late 1070s.

Geography and administration[edit]

In its "classical" extent during the 8th and 9th centuries, the theme stretched over the ancient regions of Lycaonia, Pisidia, Isauria, as well as most of Phrygia and parts of Galatia Salutaris.[1][2] Initially, the Anatolic Theme included the western and southern shores of Asia Minor as well, but by ca. 720 they were split off to form the Thracesian and Cibyrrhaeot themes.[3][4] Under Theophilos (r. 829–842), its eastern and south-eastern portions, facing the Arab frontier zone and including the forts that guarded the northern entrance to the Cilician Gates, were detached to form two new frontier districts (kleisourai), those of Cappadocia (originally a tourma of the Anatolics) and Seleucia.[5][6] Emperor Leo VI the Wise ceded the region west of Lake Tuz (the banda of Eudokias, Hagios Agapetos and Aphrazeia) to Cappadocia.[4][6] The theme's capital was Amorium, at least until it was sacked by the Arabs in 838.[4][7] After that, it was probably transferred to the nearby fortress of Polybotos.[8]

According to the Arab geographers Qudama ibn Ja'far (wrote ca. 930) and Ibn al-Faqih (wrote ca. 903), the Anatolic Theme, "the largest of the provinces of the Romans", fielded 15,000 men in the 9th century, when it contained 34 fortresses.[2] It and its military governor, or stratēgos, first attested in 690, ranked first in precedence among the theme governors. The stratēgos of the Anatolics (στρατηγός τῶν Άνατολικῶν) was one of the few posts from which eunuchs were specifically barred. The holders of the post received an annual salary of 40 pounds of gold, and are attested as holding the senior court ranks of patrikios, anthypatos, and prōtospatharios. In addition, they were the only ones to be appointed to the post of monostrategos ("single-general"), overall commander of the Asian land themes.[9][10][11]


The exact date of the theme's establishment is unknown. Along with the other original themes, it was created sometime after the 640s as a military encampment area for the remnants of the old field armies of the East Roman army, which were withdrawn to Asia Minor in the face of the Muslim conquests. The Anatolic Theme was settled and took its name from the army of the East (Greek: Άνατολή, Anatolē).[12][13][14] It is attested for the first time as a theme in 669, while the exercitus Orientalis is mentioned as late as 687.[12][14][15]

Wars with the Arabs and the Turks[edit]

During the wars with the Arabs in the 7th and 8th centuries, the Anatolic Theme—especially Cappadocia, its easternmost region—was frequently either a target of Arab invasions, or at the forefront of the Byzantine counter-raids into Arab territory, which began after the middle of the 8th century.[16] The thematic capital, Amorium, was a frequent target. It was attacked already in 644 and taken in 646; briefly occupied in 669; the Arabs reached it again in 708 and besieged it without success in 716.[16][17] The tide of the Arab attacks ebbed in the 740s, after the Byzantine victory at the Battle of Akroinon and the turmoil of the Third Fitna and the Abbasid Revolution,[18] and under Constantine V (r. 741–775), the Anatolics spearheaded the campaigns into Arab-held territory. This in turn provoked the reaction of the Abbasid Caliphate, which in the quarter-century after 780 launched repeated invasions of Byzantine Asia Minor. Thus the Anatolics suffered a heavy defeat at Kopidnadon in 788, and Amorium was threatened again in 797.[16] In the early years of the 9th century, Cappadocia was the focus of Arab attacks, which culminated in the great invasion of 806 led by Harun al-Rashid himself, which took Heraclea Cybistra and several other forts.[19]

The Byzantine themes of Asia Minor in circa 842, showing the fragmentation of the large original themes into smaller circumscriptions.

The late antique urban fabric suffered considerably from the Arab attacks and the concomitant decline of urbanization, but most of the cities in the interior of the theme, i.e. Phrygia and Pisidia, survived albeit in a reduced form. The cities of eastern Cappadocia (the former province of Cappadocia Secunda), however, which bordered the Caliphate, were practically destroyed, as was Antioch in Pisidia.[20] The foundation of the new kleisourai along the eastern frontier, especially Cappadocia, meant that Arab raids henceforth were absorbed there, and seldom reached the Anatolic Theme's territories. Apart from Caliph al-Mu'tasim's great invasion in 838, attacks that penetrated into the Anatolics' territory are reported for 878, 878, 894 and 897, always in the southeastern portion of the theme around Iconium.[19] The 10th century was largely peaceful, with the exception of yet another sack of Amorium in 931 and a raid that reached Iconium in 961.[19]

The first Turkish attack on the theme is recorded in 1069, when the Turks attacked Iconium. Most of the province was overrun by the Turks after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, with Iconium becoming the seat of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in the 12th century.[21] The last appearance of the Anatolic Theme in the historical sources is in 1077, when its stratēgos, Nikephoros Botaneiates, proclaimed himself emperor (Nikephoros III, r. 1078–1081).[4] The Byzantines managed to recover some western and northern portions of the theme in the subsequent decades, but the Anatolic Theme was never reconstituted.[21]


Gold solidus of Leo III the Isaurian and his son, Constantine V

Directly facing the forces of the Caliphate during its first centuries of existence, and benefiting from its support of the Isaurian emperors, the Anatolic Theme was the most powerful and most prestigious of the themes.[2][9] Its very power, however, also meant that it was a potential threat to the emperors: already in 669, the thematic army revolted and forced Constantine IV (r. 668–685) to re-install his brothers, Heraclius and Tiberius as his co-emperors,[22] while in 695 a former stratēgos, Leontios (r. 695–698), usurped the throne from Justinian II (r. 685–695, 705–711), and in 717 the then stratēgos, Leo the Isaurian, also became emperor (Leo III, r. 717–741).[4][23] Henceforth, the Anatolics would be stalwart supporters of the Isaurians, including their iconoclastic policies, and in 742 Leo III's son and successor, Constantine V, found refuge and support in the theme against the usurper Artabasdos.[4][23]

The Anatolic Theme served as the base for several bids for the throne in later centuries as well: the failed revolt of Bardanes Tourkos in 803 was followed by the proclamation of Leo V the Armenian (r. 813–820) by the Anatolic troops in 813, and the almost-successful rebellion of Thomas the Slav in 820–823. In the 10th century the theme appears on the sidelines of the rebellions of the time. The next and last rebellion by a stratēgos of the Anatolics was that of Nikephoros Xiphias in 1022, against Basil II (r. 976–1025).[24]