Immortals (Byzantine)

Immortals (Byzantine)

Immortals (Byzantine)

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The Immortals (, 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 Immortals were however revived under the Emperor Michael VII (r. 1071–1081), 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...
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