I remember when I first started playing Age of Empires II and how the most used civilizations in our unexperienced early games were almost always the Byzantines or the Teutons. There was something about these civilizations that made them appealing. Strong defenses, strong units, and their simplicity and intuitive game.
The Byzantines are a great civilization to use if your play style consists mainly on developing, defending and attacking! There is not a lot of science to their game. However, you still need to know how to take the most out of this civ, and know with whom you are playing against.
Buildings +10% HP Dark, +20% Feudal, +30% Castle, +40% Imperial Age
This is the one trait that makes the Byzantines the best defensive civilization in the game, as it makes all their structures sturdier as you advance ages- including walls, towers and castles. Not only does this allow more time to prepare for attacks, but it can also serve as a weapon if you build towers near your enemy's resources.
Pikemen, skirmishers and camels cost -25%
Another defensive trait. The Byzantines can make all the basic counter units cheaper than any other civ. This is useful in a pinch, if your enemy outmatches you with a huge horde of paladins, just keep on filling those Barracks with halbardiers.
Fireships +20% attack
This can be considered the defensive weapon the Byzantines have for water maps. Fire ships counter galleys- the bulk of a navy, and cannon galleons- destroyers of coastal cities. In addition to this, these babies pack more firepower than normal to aid you defend your coast.
Advance to Imperial Age costs -33%
As the more advanced civilization in Age of Empires II, they can advance to Imperial Age with a huge discount, giving them an edge- either to defend into an impenetrable fortress, or to prepare a trebuchet siege.
Town Watch free
A small gift, albeit a very welcome one. Getting more line of sight as soon as possible is essential to spot those enemy rushing rascal little armies, and act accordingly.
"The Byzantine army carried on many of the military traditions of the old Roman Empire into the Middle Ages. This was a professional force that was well-trained and well led. Officers studied tactics and command. The army was organized into formal units that maintained their own traditions for centuries. The best units in the Byzantine army were partially armored cavalrymen called cataphracts. They fought with several weapons, including the bow and sword. With plains to the east and north of their empire, the cataphract was ideally suited for combat against unarmored cavalry of their enemies. The Byzantine army went into decline partially because it lost the plains of Asia Minor from which it had drawn both horses and cavalrymen for service as cataphracts."
The legendary Cataphract, the only unit in the game that doesn't suffer any type of bonus damage! Yep, that't right, they have no weaknesses at all! Being a unit with bonus damage against infantry, they negate pikemen and halberdiers' bonus attack. As the armed horsemen they are, for some reason they also resist camels and mamelukes' bonus damage against mounted units. In fact, they are good counters for them.
The Cataphract excels at butchering infantry: if your enemy is the Goths and is spamming huskarls, you have cataphracts. If your enemy is the Aztecs and his main force consists of jaguar warriors, you have your cataphracts. If your enemy is the Vikings and has a large army of little furious berserkers, then you have your infantry-murdering Cataphracts!
The Byzantine Cataphract is costly, though, and its upgrades are also pretty expensive, so amassing a large number of these mighty horsemen isn't easy. You must control your economy carefully and avoid the killing of your precious units. Try to use them only when you know you are going to win, and always send them to batlle with some support.
"The Byzantine civilization outlived its counterpart in Rome for more than one thousand years, mainly through the adroit employment of smaller elite armies against more lightly equipped or less highly trained enemies. Well-motivated troops, well-trained officers, strong military traditions, and sound military logistics combined to create armies with fighting power disproportionate to their size. The backbone of their armies were their cataphract cavalry who could engage enemies at a distance with archery or trample them down in a charge."
As if the Catraphact wasn't already difficult enough to kill, the unique tech of the Byzantines gives them trample damage! Similar to the war elephants from the Persians, Logistica will make the cataphracts damage adjacent and nearby units, completely ignoring their armor! This works wonders, especially if you manage to create cataphracts en mass and send them to clash with an army of infantry or cavalry in a good old hack-and-slash battle!
Monks +50% heal speed
Another defensive trait, the Byzantines' team bonus allows monks to heal units 50% faster. This is great to heal your valuable cataphracts, as well as healing other expensive units that can be of use, like cavalry archers and heavy camels.
There is one civilization in particular that can greatly benefit from this team bonus, the Aztecs. The Aztec civ is the one with the biggest focus on monks. Not only to they get the complete tech tree for the Monastery, but their monks also gain +5 hit points for each research!
A complete Monastery will make the Aztec Monk quite sturdy, while the Byzantines' team bonus allows them to heal themselves and the army faster. In addition to this, the Aztecs provide the team with +33% of relic-generated gold, another great bonus for the defensive Byzantines player if he manages to grab a relic or two.
The Byzantines are the civilization of Age of Empires II with the most complete tech tree, only missing 9 researches in total. As for units, they only lack the exclusive to the native American civs Eagle Warrior, and the Heavy Scorpion and Siege Onager upgrades. Despite this somewhat lacking siege, they are still the most advanced and versatile civ in the game, can counter virtually everything, for cheaper and without having an actual weakness!
(For these observations, I took into account the tech tree of the most recent version of the game: Age of Empires II - HD.)
There is not much more left to mention about the Byzantines. To aid their economy and promote their great defenses, the Byzantines also get all the resource-gathering related researches from the Mill, Lumber Camp, Mining Camp and Market. This is great for the late game as the Byzantines can provide for some long games.
In addition to having all the counters, champions, arbalests, paladins, hand cannoneers, monks and bombard cannons... uff! They also have the complete tech tree for the Dock, making them one of the best water map civs as well, enabling them to challenge water map specialists: the Spanish, the Koreans, the Vikings and the Saracens. And even versus those, with Shipwright, the Byzantine Dock can keep on producing cheaper and stronger fast fire ships to outnumber and counter those beasts of the sea.
unfortunately, the Byzantines lack Bloodlines from the stable and Black Furnace from the Blacksmith, making their cavalry miss those extra 20 hit points and +2 attack. I guess they can't have it all, can they?
The Cataphract is indeed a mighty unit, so how do you counter such demon? The fact is, inspite of having incredible resistance in close combat, they still have a somewhat lacking pierce armor (not as good as Paladin's anyway). So, you need to take advantage of that.
I found out that the best strategy against the Byzantine army consists of stalling them up-front with incoming fire from behind. The best damage you can deal this way is from the ever-reliable destructive missiles of heavy scorpions. You can make the best heavy scorpions with the the Celts and the Chinese, for their greater survivibility and fire power. In any case, I will list below some combinations you can use against the Byzantine army:
Britons: +Elite Longbowmen -> -Cavaliers
Celts: +Heavy Scorpions -> -Paladins
Chinese: +Heavy Scorpions/Elite Chu Ko Nu -> -Cavaliers
Franks: -Heavy Scorpions/Hand Cannoneers -> +Paladins
Huns: Cavalry Archers -> Paladins
Koreans: +Elite War Wagons -> -Cavaliers
Mongols: +Elite Mangudai -> -Hussars/Cavaliers
Persians: -Heavy Scorpions -> +Elite War Elephants
Saracens: Cavalry Archers -> Heavy Camels
Spanish: Elite Conquistadores -> Paladins
Teutons: Heavy Scorpions/Hand Cannoneers -> Paladins/Teutonic Knights
Turks: Bombard Cannons/Elite Janissaries -> Walls -> Cavalry Archer hit-and-run
Apart from the more strategic last combination, this is really a setting of the stastically-superior units in the front row, with support fire from the back row. If your current civilization doesn't have any statistically superior unit (Paladin/War Elephant) to the Cataphract, then it becomes a "stalling with your strongest units at the front, while concentrating the heavy fire from the back" kind of approach.
And there you go, my in-depth look into one of the favorites from Age of Empires II. I confess I have not used the Byzantines much after getting used to other civs, like the Koreans, my favorite civilization! However, after writing this article, I got this urge to go for some online with the Byzantines as my civ and their mounted demons as my weapons, muahaha!
Would you like to know more about the other great civs in the game? Then check out my 10 of the Best Civilizations from Age of Empires II: The Conquerors!