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The Byzantine Empire is what the Eastern Roman Empire became. Through many ups and downs, it lasted into the 16th century before finally vanishing into history. The empire was centred around what is now Greece and Turkey. You may be wondering what the connection is between Byzantium and SAGA, a game about Norse adventurers and raiders. Well. Being such fine sailors, the Norsemen didn’t only travel west to raid and explore, but east too. Through what is now Russia and Ukraine, the sailed down into the Black Sea and from there arrived at Constantinople.
Mercenaries made up a high proportion of the Byzantine army. There would be a small standing army, but in times of war mercenaries made up the numbers. Vikings became prized mercenaries, serving as the Emperor’s own bodyguard, the Varangian Guard. This may sound odd, but in the byzantine political world of Byzantium, the Emperor found it useful to have at his side armed men who were basically immune to bribery.
The map below shows the empire in 1045
The most famous Varangian was probably Harald Hardrada, a Norwegian exile who became captain of the guard. After his service, he took his rich rewards back to Norway, and used them to stake a successful claim to the throne of Norway. Later, he was less successful in staking a claim to the English throne, falling to Anglo-Dane axes at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.
In SAGA, the Byzantines are a combined force army. You will need to use shooting, combat infantry and cavalry together, and additionally mix warriors, hearthguard and levy in your force to succeed. To further emphasise the nature of this force, there is more than one battle board ability that can activate multiple units at the same time. Position carefully, then strike a decisive blow!
Your levy units are armed with javelins. The Scouting ability on the battle board allows you to activate up to three levy units for a single dice. In addition those activations do not generate fatigue. This ability alone makes your levy capable of some deep strikes against small enemy targets, or a warlord left by himself.
Warriors can be armed with their bows or spears. Again, it’s probably best to mix these in each force. Once you look at the battle board you will see how well Byzantine units can support each other on combat. The ability to shoot into combat without hitting your own men, or swap fatigue between two (non-levy) units can tilt the balance back towards you.
Hearthguard are always mounted, and can have either bows or swords. These units are extremely flexible in terms of the support they can provide to or receive from the rest of your army.
Byzantines are a powerful force but tricky to use well. They aren’t a one-trick pony like certain Jomsvikings I could mention, and will require some practise to use well. A typical 6-point Byzantine force will have 2 points each of levy, warriors, and hearthguard. The battle board is deep, as they always are, and through experimentation you will find your perfect combination in terms of abilities and unit options.