The Battle of Anchialus 708 AD


It is a calm summer morning somewhere in the eastern Haemus Mountains. Bulgarian Khan Tervel stands on a small hillock on the edge of the forest. From there, he is able to see the Eastern Roman fortress looming in the distance. And beneath its walls a busy Roman camp, presumably with the emperor himself inside. “What a bold, ungrateful bastard,” Tervel muttered under his breath, sighing to the wind. He jumped off the crooked tree stump and nodded to his closest retainer. The battle was about to begin. This video is sponsored by Raid: Shadow Legends. If you’re looking for a gritty RPG game set in a dark fantasy world with strong tactical elements, then you should definitely check out, Raid: Shadow Legends. The game utilizes a shard system. As you acquire and open Blue Shards you gain new champions. What we noticed is the sheer variety of champions you can get. Ranging from demonic to angelic, monstrous to heroic. The selection is staggering! 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During this time he revealed himself as a proactive administrator and military commander and while his campaigns against the neighbouring Bulgars, Arabs and Slavs were quite successful, his domestic policies rarely followed suit. Though early in his reign Justinian managed the internal affairs within the empire reasonably well, gradually, his ineffective taxation methods, clumsy relations with the clergy and general heavy handedness towards both aristocracy and common people alike, netted him many enemies among his subordinates. In 695 one of Justinian’s outbursts sparked a popular uprising and subsequent deposition of the incumbent emperor. Justinian’s life was spared, as killing a dethroned monarch in the Byzantine Empire would put those who seized power in unfavourable light. Instead, Justinian had his nose cut off to prevent him from seeking the throne again and was exiled to the remote city of Chersonesus in the Crimean Peninsula. One might think, that from that point, the figure of Justinian II would slowly fade into history, but our protagonist for today was of a tougher breed than those who had deposed him could have ever imagined. Over several years of his captivity, Justinian plotted to gather a solid following in Chersonesus and, at the most opportune moment he escaped his custody, soon receiving help from the khagan of Khazars. For a year or so Justinian settled in a residence in the city of Phanagoria, but his new home soon became unsafe. He discovered a conspiracy of the usurper emperor Tiberius, who bribed the Khazars to assassinate Justinian. The latter however was in no mood to die that day and upon tricking the would-be-killers into his residence, he strangled them to death. As living among the the Khazars was no longer safe, Justinian departed Phanagoria and sailed back west to Chersonesus, where he enlisted some of his local supporters. From there his journey led to the lands occupied by the Bulgars and in late 704 Justinian turned up at the doorstep of their leader Khan Tervel. The arrival of such a guest at the Bulgarian court was most likely unexpected, but Tervel swiftly realized that helping the exiled emperor would be a very good opportunity to strengthen the young Bulgarian state and also gain some lasting reputation. For a hefty amount of money and generous promises of lands and the prestigious title of Caesar, Justinian was gifted with a 15,000 strong army of Bulgar and Slavic riders which essentially put him back in the game for the throne in Constantinople. In spring of 705 Justinian’s army reached the walls of the mighty city, but, unsurprisingly was denied entrance. Yet thanks to his extensive knowledge of Constantinople, Justinian was able to infiltrate the city through an unused aqueduct, rally his supporters and open the gates. Acting nimbly and cleverly, both the previous and current usurper emperor were tracked down, imprisoned and eventually killed. In this way, after ten long years of humiliation and wandering, Justinian II reclaimed his imperial dignity. But for any of those who had hoped that Justinian had changed during his time in exile, his second spell as Byzantine emperor quickly sobered them up. Once again Justinian exerted an authoritarian style of rule pushing his boundaries of harshness and cruelty even farther. Though of questionable morality, these methods combined with widespread persecution of his political opponents allowed Justinian to consolidate power reasonably fast. In 708 he already felt strong enough to challenge Bulgarian Khan Tervel, who helped him reclaim the throne three years earlier. Thought the sources don’t explicitly state the reason for this move, the most probable rationale behind Justinian’s turn on his Bulgarian allies was his ambition to recover the area stretching from the city of Beroia up to the coast, that he previously ceded to Tervel in exchange for military support. In the summer of the year 708 war preparations were completed and the Byzantine host sailed north along the coast for a couple of uneventful weeks, while mounted units followed by land. As soon as they reached the height of the small fortress of Anchialus lying close to the lands occupied by the Bulgarian Khanate, Justinian ordered his riders to comb the area to replenish provisions. The rest of the Eastern Roman force set a camp in front of the walls, where the emperor could plan his next steps. The camp was just barely defended, as Justinian likely felt confident thanks to the presence of the nearby fortress enhancing his options. Moreover, despite nearly thirty years of mutual contact, battles and alliances, Justinian still considered the Bulgarians to be of inferior quality regarding at least their military potential, which is quite odd as largely thanks to the help of the Bulgarian khan, Justinian was able to reclaim the throne in Constantinople. Khan Tervel however had never over-looked the Eastern Romans and thanks to his spies in Constantinople he was able to prepare for Justinian’s campaign. As soon as he received reports of the imperial army pitching tents near Anchialus he moved his Bulgar and Slavic troops to the hilly, forested area to the northwest, making sure to keep the Byzantines oblivious of the incoming threat. Subsequently, once all of his men took suitable positions, khan Tervel waited for the right moment to strike. Eventually, when scattered Byzantine cavalry foraged too close to the concealed Bulgarian units, Tervel gave the order to attack. Numerous Bulgar riders rushed out of their positions charging at the disorientated Eastern Romans. The surprise was overwhelming, many of Justinian’s men fell within the first minutes of the attack. As it was impossible to defend with the complete lack of any battle plan nor cohesion, the Byzantines turned tail and fled back to the camp. But the situation in the camp was equally disastrous. The rest of the Bulgarian riders followed by Slavic infantry struck the unprepared main body of the Eastern Roman army, shocking emperor Justinian. The battle was wholly unbalanced, with only some of the defenders being able to grab their weapons and stand against the enemy. Yet their resistance was futile and it was only a matter of time till they were overwhelmed. Emperor Justinian, unable to turn the odds, managed to gather a token force and retreated into the safety of the Anchialus fortress, from where he could see the agonising view of his disintegrating army. It was a resounding victory for Khan Tervel, who then proceeded to besiege the fortress, hoping to kill two birds with one stone and take the emperor captive. But just a few days later Justinian escaped the fortress with his retinue, sailing back to Constantinople. Following this, the defenders morale plummeted and Anchialus surrendered to the Bulgarians. Although the humiliating defeat against Khan Tervel took a toll on Justinian’s authority and already meagre popularity, the latter was able to hold on to his imperial throne for another three years. He even managed to reconcile with Khan Tervel and receive additional military support in 711 when Justinian’s harsh policies once again caused turmoil within the empire. Yet this time, luck was not on his side and in December of 711 Justinian was arrested and decapitated outside the city of Constantinople.

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