Immortals (Byzantine Empire)
|This article is part of the series on the military of the Byzantine Empire, 330–1453 AD|
|Byzantine army (Generals): East Roman army, Middle Byzantine army (themes • tagmata • Hetaireia), Komnenian Byzantine army (pronoia), Palaiologan Byzantine army (allagia) • Varangian Guard|
|Byzantine navy (Admirals):Greek fire • Dromon|
|Lists of wars and revolts and civil wars|
|Strategy and tactics|
|Tactics • Siege warfare • Military manuals • Fortifications (Walls of Constantinople)|
The Immortals (Greek: Ἀθάνατοι, Athanatoi) were one of the elite tagmata military units of the Byzantine Empire, first raised during the late 10th century. The name derives from a- ("without") + thanatos ("death").
The Athanatoi were a body of young men of noble status that was originally raised by John I Tzimiskes (r. 969-976) for his war with the Rus'. The unit was probably disbanded shortly afterwards, since it does not appear again in the sources. The 10th century historian Leo the Deacon refers to the impressive spectacle that the Athanatoi made in their gold and silver armour.
The officer commanding this regiment had the title of Dhomestikos of Athanatoi, with a subordinate designated as Topoteretes
The Immortals were however revived under the Emperor Michael VII (r. 1071–1078), when his minister Nikephoritzes reorganised the army. This reorganisation was part of an effort to address a major military crisis for the Empire following the disastrous defeat suffered by the Byzantines against the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. The Seljuks had subsequently overrun most of Asia Minor, which had provided the main recruiting ground for the pre-Manzikert army.
As part of the reorganisation process, the remnants of the provincial troops of the Eastern themata (military provinces) were brought together as the Immortals, providing a new Tagmatic regiment. The new Immortals may have been cavalry, like the bulk of the old Byzantine field army, but this is not certain.
Anna Comnena, in her account of the campaigns of her father Alexius Comnenus makes several references to the Immortals. They are initially referred to as having "only touched sword and shield a short time before" and of fleeing in disorder before the rebel Nicephorus Bryennius. They are subsequently described as "a regiment peculiar to the Roman (Byzantine) army" who as natives of the country were most loyal to the Emperor
The Byzantine historian Nicephorus Bryennius the Younger records that the Immortals numbered 10,000, but this is most likely an allusion to the old Persian Immortal Guard. He adds that the title of "Immortals" was originally accorded only to officers but was soon applied to the entire corps.
It is not known when the Immortals disappeared from the Byzantine order of battle, but they had probably been disbanded by 1200.
Literary Reference 
- Kazhdan, Alexander (Ed.) (1991). Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. Oxford University Press. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6.
- page 46 "The Eastern Romans 330-1461 AD", Dr Raffaele D'Amato, ISBN 962-361-089-0
- page 24 "Byzantine Imperial Guardsmen 925-1025", Dr Raffaele D'Amato, ISBN 978-1-84908-850-3
- "Byzantine Civilisation", Steven Runciman
- page 39 "The Alexiad of Anna Comnenea", Penguin Books 1979
- page 95 "The Alexiad of Anna Comnenea", Penguin Books 1979
- "Byzantine Armies", Ian Heath, ISBN 0 85045 306