I keep looking around on databases like EBSCO and JSTOR and google scholar, but I can't find anything conclusive on the total army strength of the Byzantine empire under Justinian. The Wikipedia article on the Byzantine army has the following to say:

The size of Justinian's army is unclear. Bury, writing in the 1920s, accepted the estimate of 150,000 troops of all classes in 559 given by Agathia of Myrina in his History.[10] Modern scholars estimate the total strength of the imperial army under Justinian to be between 300,000 and 350,000 soldiers.[11]

Wikipedia provides a source here: Maas, Micael (2005). The Cambridge Companion Guide to the Age of Justinian. Cambridge University Press.

I can't access it. Is there any other sources that you guys know of that give estimates? I know that there isn't a conclusive number, but at this point, any reliable source with some number between 140000-350000 would be great.

1 Answer 1


Following the citations in Maas, the original number is from Agathias' Histories 5.13.7, where he gives the provides an estimate of 150,000.

However, as Maas notes:

There is...broad agreement that this figure errs on the low side, both because it occurs in a polemical context where it suits Agathias to portray Justinian as neglecting the army in his final years and because it does not tally with other, more circumstantial evidence.19 One tentative suggestion for the actual number is something in the vicinity of 300,000 to 350,000.20 It is highly unlikely to have exceeded this order of magnitude, in light of the figures contemporary sources give for the size of individual armies on campaign: the army of 52,000 the emperor Anastasius deployed in 503 is described by Procopius as the largest force assembled against the Persians before or since,21 while armies during Justinian’s reign are typically 15,000 to 30,000 men,22 and the Strategikon considered a force of 15,000 to 20,000 large.23 More generally, it is clear that major military commitments on two fronts – as in 540 when Justinian had to cope with the ongoing campaign against the Goths in Italy while also dealing with a Persian invasion of Syria – severely stretched available troops.

The Maas references cite quite a few different works:

Jones, LRE [=The Later Roman Empire], 684; Whitby, "Recruitment," [in The Cambridge History of Roman Warfare] 73–75; W. Treadgold, Byzantium and Its Army, 284–1081 (1995), 59–64; Haldon, Warfare, State and Society in the Byzantine World (London, 1999), 99–100.

The 300,000-350,000 number comes from Haldon (p. 100), who claims that Agathias:

almost certainly omits the limitanei from his first figure (perhaps because, according to Procopius, writing a little earlier, Justinian had deprived the limitanei of their military status, an assertion which was in reality not true, as we have seen), and his second fits—more or less—with what we might deduce from the size of field armies described or assumed in the Strategikon of Maurice.


Using this information, it is possible to suggest figures which coincide with those given by Agathias, and suggest a total for all the comitatenses of the empire, including the western divisions in Africa and Italy, of between 150,00 and 160,000. Limitanei would number as many again, possibly twice as many, producing a grand total of some 300,000–350,000, although it is important to stress the hypothetical nature of this conclusion given the variations between units on active service or in garrisons, as well as the unknown factor, the strength of the various categories of unit.

  • The Wikipedia article on Limitanei also states that Justinian had deprived them of their status as professional soldiers. Commented Mar 15 at 10:57

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