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This list covers armies of the Eastern Roman Empire from the final demise of the Western Empire in 493 AD until c.550. Fore much of this period the armies of Justinian I were commanded by Flavius Belisarius, one of history’s greatest generals. Under his leadership many areas of the Western Empire were recaptured including North Africa from the Vandals by 534 and Rome itself by 536. He also successfully defended Constantinople from the Bulgars in 559. During Justinian’s reign the Eastern Empire also managed to recapture all of Italy from the Goths and various campaigns against the Persians. The Emperor Justinian I died in 565 within weeks of Flavius Belisarius.
This list covers Moorish armies from the revolts against the Romans of the mid-4th century AD until the Arab conquest at the end of the 7th century.
In 418 AD the Visigoths were rewarded for helping the Romans in Iberia with a gift of land in Gallia Aquitania (modern south-west France). Having gained most of what is now southern France and much of Spain by 500 they were pushed back by the Franks in 507, moving their capital twice. A civil war allowed Byzantines to reoccupy southern Iberia in 554 but it, together with much of the north, was part of the kingdom by 624. An Umayyad Muslim invasion saw the death of King Roderic in 711 and the eventual capture of all but a northern strip of Iberia. This list covers the Visigothic Kingdom from 419 until the completion of the Arab conquest c.718.
Invited over to Africa from Spain in 429 AD to aid the Roman commander Boniface, once there the Vandals could not be dislodged. By 439 they had captured Carthage and made it their new capital, and developing a large fleet under King Geiseric conquered Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands. They sacked Rome itself in 455 and in 468 defeated a large East Roman fleet but failed to take Greece. In 533 the Byzantines invaded under the commander Belisarius and King Gelimer surrendered in 534 ending the Vandal Kingdom. This list covers Vandal armies from 442 until 534.
By 493 Theodoric the Great had become King of Italy after defeating King Odoacer at the request of the Eastern Roman Emperor. Theodoric also exercised dominance over the Visigothic kingdom in modern southern France and Spain. When the Visigoths were defeated by the Franks in 507, the Ostrogothic army managed to save them a costal strip. In 535, the Byzantine Empire invaded under the general Belisarius who captured the Gothic capital Ravenna in 540. However the Byzantine general was recalled and the Goths took back much of the kingdom, defeating several Roman forces. Not until 552 and again in 553 were the Goths defeated at by Byzantine forces. This list covers the Ostrogothic kingdom from the defeat of Odoacer 493 to the final Byzantine victory in 561.
Slavic tribes the Venets, the Antes and the Sklavens first appear in records around the early 6th century. By the end of their migrations their territory included most of the former Yugoslavia, central Greece and much of the Peloponnese. Serbs entered modern Serbia in the 7th century forming the Serbian Empire in 1346. The Croats also arrived in modern Croatia in the 7th century forming a kingdom in the 10th century. After the defeat and death in 1097 of the last Croatian king at the Battle of Gvozd Mountain Croatia accepted dynastic union with Hungary in 1102. Although of Sarmatian origin the Serbs and Croats rapidly assimilated with their Slav subjects. This list covers the South Slavic armies from the 6th century until the 12th century AD.
In 568 AD, the Lombards invaded Italy. The invasion force also included Bavarians, Saxons, Suebi, Gepids and Bulgars. The Byzantine forces were inadequate to defend Italy against the hoard. A Lombard Kingdom was established in the north and also pressed into the centre and south forming Lombard duchies. In 754 the Pope called in the Frankish King Pepin III, who defeated the Lombards and drove them out of Ravenna. In 756 the Papal States were created by the “Donation of Constantine” and the Pope established rule over central Italy. Lombards recaptured Ravenna in 772 before being defeated by the Frankish king Charlemagne who took the title “King of the Lombards”. In the 9th century the Principality was divided and survived attacks until conquered by the Normans by 1077. This list covers independent Lombard armies from 568 until 1077.
Having reached its greatest existence by 555 AD the Byzantine Empire started to contract again after the death of Emperor Justinian in 565. Most of Italy was lost to the Lombards and all of Spain to the Visigoths by 624. A Persian invasion saw many of the eastern provinces fall and in 626 Constantinople itself was under siege. Only by sailing up the Black Sea and attacking the Persians from the rear did Emperor Herakleios save the city. By this time however most of the former Yugoslavia and central Greece and much of the Peloponnese had fallen to the Slavs. From 634 the Arabs invaded and conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Mesopotamia from the Byzantines by 646. This list covers Byzantine armies from the adoption of the lance c.550 to the completion of the Thematic system c.650.
This list covers the armies of the Nubian kingdoms from the conversion of the Nobatia kingdom to Christianity c.550AD until the collapse of the Kingdom of Alwa c.1500. The Nubians were the first to inflict a major defeat on the Muslim Arabs. After a second battle at Dongola in 652 the treaty of Baqt was agreed. Despite this there were still occasional wars between the Nubians usually coming off second best.
Nomadic Avars arrived in Europe in the mid-6th Century AD and subjugated the Kutigur Huns (Bulgars) and other Slavic tribes. They invaded Germany (having been baught off by the Byzantines) and reached the Baltic before being fought to a standstill by the Franks. Next heading for modern Hungary, allying with the Lombards against the Gepids, who were subjugated in 567. Pressure caused them to migrate to Italy in 568. After the murder of the Byzantine Emperor the Avars allied with Persians besieging Constantinople unsuccessfully in 626..
This list covers the western Turks from the mid-6th to the 11th century. It covers Gokturks, Qarlugs, pre-Seljuq Oghuzz, Turgesh and Khaganate. Khazars were the most significant of these. Fully independent of the Gokturks by the mid-7th century, their empire in the Volga basin stood astride a number of important trade routes, from which they drew their wealth and power. The Khaganate was decisively defeated c.968 by the Kiev Rus, who sacked the Khazar capital, Atil. There is some evidence that a remnant Kazar state existed in North Caucasus into the 11th century.
This list covers Islamic Arab forces from 629AD when armies became larger until c.685 when the Muslim army changed from a tribal to a “regular” structure. Arab armies of the conquest period are very similar to pre-Islamic forces in most respects. However, the new Muslim faith gave them greater discipline and motivation. This is demonstrated by victories over numerically larger Roman and Persian forces, such as at the battle of Yarmuk in 636. Their biggest challenge came after the death of the Prophet in 632. This lead to a series of wars, known as the Ridda wars, against followers of a false prophet and others, returning the Arabian peninsula to Muslim control.
The Bulgars were initially a coalition of Hunnic tribes. This list covers armies of the Khanate of Greater Bulgaria (around the sea of Azov) from 631, the end of Avar rule, until their defeat by the Khazars c.668, when the horde fled. Those that fled west formed the Danubian Bulgar Kingdom c.680. This list also covers that kingdom until its conquest by the Byzantines in 1018.
The Thematic system was initiated by the Emperor Herakleios in the first half of the 7th Century. The Empire was divided into the number of administrative ‘themes’ and the soldiers in each were granted land in return for part-time service. The state owned the land but pay costs were reduced. Their descendants were also expected to follow as thematic soldiers, removing the need for conscription. The commander was also a civil governor, reversing the separation made by Diocletian. This gave the Empire a resilience, allowing it to prosper for centuries. This list covers Byzantine armies from the completion of the system in c.650 until the accession of Nikephoros II Phokas in 963.
This list covers the Arab caliphate armies from the development of a ‘regular’ army c.685AD until the Abbasids defeated the Umayyad in 750. It does not cover the later Umayyad state in Spain. Umayyads came to power in 661 and reformed the army during the reign of ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705) to a non-tribal basis. Troops remained the same but they relied more on cavalry and defensive infantry. They invaded Visigothic Spain in 711 and France was often raided until the Battle of Tours in 732. Khurasan was secured with the defeat of the Turkish Khazars and Turgesh. The main military failure of the Umayyads was the abortive siege of Constantinople from 717 to 718.
This list covers armies of the Abbasid Caliphate from the Abbasid revolt in 747AD until the Buwayhid capture of Baghdad in 946. Instability in the Umayyad caliphate lead to revolution backing a member of the Prophets family as caliph. This led to the Abbasids (related to the Prophet’s uncle) seizing power. The biggest change to Muslim armies came in the wake of the civil war of 811-813 when Turkish slaves were recruited, becoming the ghilman cavalry. These became the backbone of Abbasid armies. This list also covers the Tulunid and Ikhshidid Egyptian States. The Tulumids were independent from 874 to 905 when Abbasids regained control while the Ikhshidids were independent 937 until 969 when they were conquered by the Fatimids..
Early North African Dynasties
This list covered the armies of the North African emirates, from their assumption of independence from the Abbasid caliphate until the rise of the Murabits. The Idrisids formed their own rival Shiite caliphate in Morocco from 789 to c.926. The Aghlabids in Tunisia achieved independence by c.820. They subsequently conquered Sicily and held it until the late 11th century when conquered by the Normans. The Shiite Fatamids replaced the Aghlabids in Tunisia in 909, and this list represents their army from this date until their Egyptian state started to employ Turks and Dailame c.978. After the Fatimid conquest of Egypt the Zirid dynasty ruled Tunisia as their clients from 972, but were finally conquered by the Almohades c.1160. The Maghrawinids ruled Morocco from the early 11th century until c.1064 when conquered by the Murabids.
This list covers the Tahirid, Saffarid, and Samanid dynasties in the eastern provinces of the former Abbasid Empire. The Tahirids rose to power after Tahir ibn Husayn led al-Ma’mun’s army to victory in the Abbasid civil war, and was made governor of Khurasan. They were overthrown by the Saffarids in 873. The Saffarids started as leaders of brigands and ‘Alid secessionists but rose to conquer the province of Seistan in eastern Persia, and later Khurasan. However, they lost most of their territory to the Samanids in the early 10th century. The Samanids were the most successful of the Khurasanian dynasties, presiding over a renaissance of Persian tradition, although they remained staunchly Muslim. They fell to the expanding power of the Ghaznavids.
This list covers the local Arab dynasties in Syria and Iraq that flourished during and after the collapse of Abbasid power, such as the Hamdanids in Mosul and Aleppo, the Iqaylids in Mosul, the Mazyadids in southern Iraq and the Mirdassids in Aleppo. The Hamdanids of the Banu Taghlib were by far the most successful, dominating Mosul and the surrounding area from the 9th century onwards. They remained in power here until 991 when ousted by the Iqaylids. The Aleppo branch was founded by Sayf al-Dawla in 944 when he took over the city with the help of Banu Kilab tribesmen. For 20 years following this he was the darling of the Muslim world, regularly raiding Christian Byzantines. However, his credibility fell as the Byzantines started to conquer Muslim territory from the mid-10th century onwards.
This list covers the armies of the dynasties from the northern Iranian Caspian Sea provinces of Dailam and Gilan. Never fully subdued by the Arab conquests they did not convert to Islam until the early 10th century. The most important dynasty was the Buwahids. They took power in Fars in 934 and Baghdad in 946, and thereafter ruled as a family confederation of emirates until c.1055, when they fell to the Seljuk Turks. Although they came to power through the strength of their infantry the Buwayhids needed cavalry support outside of the mountains, and recruited Turkish ghilman, and may have occasionally used small numbers of elephants. The list also covers the Ziyarids and Musafirids. These dynasties did not use ghilman and had to rely on Kurds and Bedouin for cavalry when needed.
The pechenegs were a nomadic or semi-nomadic Turkic people who defeated the Magyars in the mid-9th century and occupied much of the southwestern Eurasian steppe. They were commonly used as allies or mercenaries by the Byzantines. They came into frequent conflict with the Rus, besieging Kiev in 968, though they sometimes allied with the Rus against the Byzantines. They suffered a series of defeats in 1036-1122 by the Rus, the Cumans and the Byzantines. Thereafter they survived only as remnant populations.
This list covers the armies of the Ghaznavid dynasty from 962, when Alp Tigin acquired power at Ghazna in eastern Afghanistan, until the fall of the dynasty. They conquered most of the Afghanistan and the Punjab, and the remainder of Samanid territory and much of northern India between 997 and 1024. Finally they acquired Rayy from Buwayhids in 1027. They continued to raid deep into India on a regular basis for the next 140 years. During the 11th century however the empire was under pressure from the rising power of the Seljuk Turks, and lost nearly all of Khurasan at the Battle of Dandanaquan in 1040. Following this the Ghurids rebelled and pushed the Ghaznavids back to their Indian territories. The last of these fell to the Ghurids in 1187.
Under the Macedonian dynasty the Byzantine Empire went on the offensive, initially meeting mixed success. However, the soldier emperors Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes reconquered Crete, Cyprus and parts of Syria. Basil II conquered the Bulgar Empire in 1018 after a 20 year campaign. Following his death the native army was reduced, and short term mercenary contracts were relied upon. The Normans conquered the last Byzantine possessions in Italy. In 1071 the main Byzantine field army was decisively defeated by the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in Asia Minor. Over the next few years most of Asia Minor was lost to the Turks. This list covers Byzantine armies from 963 until 1071.