From Academic Kids

Themes (singular thema) were administrative units of land in the Byzantine Empire.

During the late sixth and early seventh centuries AD, the Byzantine Empire was under assault. The Persian Empire was pressing it from the south and east, assaulting Syria, Egypt, and Anatolia. Slavs and Avars raided Greece and disputed the Balkan holdings of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Lombards freely raided northern Italy, completely unopposed. The treasury of the Empire was drained and its generals were in open rebellion. Under such circumstances, Heraclius ascended to the throne and instituted the reforms that would serve as the backbone of the Empire for generations to come.

The reorganizations of Heraclius were sorely needed. With wars being waged simultaneously in the east and the west, the public coffers were all but empty. Most larger cities were shrinking, with droves of people returning to agriculture in the countryside out of necessity. Furthermore, the empire was relying substantially on mercenaries to fight its wars, a sure sign of weakness. The basic objective of Heraclius’ alterations was to return the military to the republican system of landed citizen armies that had served so well during the initial creation of the Roman Empire. In order to do this, Heraclius began distributing land to the armies and the individual soldiers in exchange for hereditary military duty at a reduced expense to the state.

A thema was a plot of land given to the soldiers to farm. They were still technically a military unit, under the command of a strategos, a military and civil authority. The soldiers did not technically own the land they worked. It was still controlled by the state, and therefore for its use the soldier’s pay was reduced. By accepting this proposition, the participant agreed that his descendants would also serve in the military and work in a thema, thus simultaneously reducing the need for unpopular drafts as well as cheaply expanding the military. It also allowed for the settling of conquered lands because these themes could be rapidly formed into military units and there was always a substantial addition made to public lands during a conquest.

This system of transplanting military units into unsettled lands and creating an inherent loyalty to the state, something every government has struggled with, greatly strengthened the Byzantine Empire. Over the next several decades, the Persians were routed and their empire ceased to exist, the Slavs and Avars were reduced and rebellions within the empire became far less common. The Themes military structure rescued the Eastern Roman Empire from destruction and gave it a durability that would last for centuries to come. The price to be paid for this was a general miltarization of the society and a decline of civil institutions and civil culture; for this reason, the introduction of Themes is seen as marking the end of Late Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages for the Byzantine Empire. However it should be noted that unlike Western Europe, the Byzantine Empire never reduced its farmers to the status of serfs.

Heraclius originally divided the existent holdings of the empire into five themes. These were the Armeniac (in AD 667), the Anatolic (in 669), the Opsician (in 680), the Carabisiani (in 680) and the Thracian (also in 680). The Armeniac thema was originally composed of Pontus and Cappadocia, stretching from Sinope to Trebizond on the Black Sea and extending as far inland as Caesarea (in present-day terms it would comprise the majority of the northeastern quarter of Asiatic Turkey). The Thracian thema was originally composed of a band of territory hugging the coast from Dyrrhachium into Thrace, comprising most of modern Greece, Albania and European Turkey, including Constantinople. The Opsician thema was originally composed of all of Bithynia and Paphlagonia, stretching from Abydos on the Dardanelles to Sinope on the Black Sea and inland to Ancyra (i.e. most of the northwestern quarter of what is now Asiatic Turkey). The southwestern quarter of what is now Turkey was divided between the Anatolic and Carabisiani themes. The Carabisiani thema was narrow band of territory that was comprised of the coastal province of Pamphylia and the isle of Rhodes. The Anatolic thema made a crescent shape arching around Carabisiani, and was originally composed of Lydia, Phrygia, Pisidia and parts of Galatia and Isauria (i.e. an arch of land from Izmir to Konya, and then down to the Mediterranean almost as far east as Mersin). These original five themes were later subdivided and new themes were added as the empire pushed outward in the 9th and 10th (byzantinische Verwaltung) pl:Tem (historia)


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