Dimitris Stamatios | April 23, 2023
The Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire or Byzantium are terms conventionally used to name the Roman Empire of the Middle Ages with its capital at Constantinople. The official name was Ρωμανία, Romanía or Βασιλεία Pωμαίων (Basileía Romaíon), Roman Empire. There is no consensus as to the date of the beginning of the Byzantine period. Some place it during the reign of Diocletian (284-305), due to the administrative reforms he introduced, dividing the empire into pars Orientis and pars Occidentis. Others place the event during the reign of Theodosius I (379-395) and the victory of Christianity over paganism, or, after his death in 395, at the time of the division of the Roman Empire into western and eastern halves. Others place this date later, in 476, when the last Western emperor, Romulus Augustus, was forced to abdicate, thus leaving the Hellenised Eastern emperor as the sole Roman emperor. In any case, the change was gradual, and by 330, when Emperor Constantine I inaugurated his new capital, the process of Hellenization and Christianization was already underway. Most historians regard the change during the reign of Heraclius I (Heraclius Hellenized the empire around 640, adopting Greek as the official language) as the breaking point with Byzantium’s Roman past, and usually refer to the empire as “Byzantine” instead of “Eastern Roman” after this date. This is just a convention since most of the population of the European part of the empire, except the Greeks, continued to speak popular Latin until the emergence of the languages of the migrating populations (Slavs and Bulgarians).
Main article: Names of the Greeks
The name Byzantine Empire is a modern historiographical term, which was unknown to those who lived in the heyday of the empire (i.e. the Eastern Roman Empire). The original name of the empire in Greek was Ρωμανία Romagna or Βασιλεία Pωμαίων Basileía Romaíon, a Latin translation of the name of the Roman Empire, Imperium Romanorum. The term Byzantine Empire was coined in 1557, about a century after the fall of Constantinople, by the German historian Hieronymus Wolf (1516 – 1580), who introduced a system of Byzantine historiography in his work Corpus Historiae Byzantinae, with the aim of distinguishing ancient Roman history from medieval Greek history, without drawing attention to their ancient predecessors and Roman imperial continuity (in the East). Standardisation of the term came in the 17th century, when French authors such as Montesquieu began to popularise it. Hieronymus was also influenced by the dispute that arose in the 9th century between the Romans, (Byzantines as we call them today), and the Franks. Under Charlemagne (Charles the Great), the Franks had founded an empire in western Europe and, with the support of the Pope, sought to legitimise their conquests in Italy by denying their neighbours to the east the right to call themselves Romans. The Donation of Constantine, one of the most famous forged documents in history, played an important role. From then on it became the rule in the West that the emperor of Constantinople was no longer called Imperator Romanorum (Emperor of the Romans), a title which had been reserved for Frankish emperors, but ‘Imperator Graecorum’ (Emperor of the Greeks), and the country ruled by the latter as ‘Imperium Graecorum’, ‘Graecia’, ‘Terra Graecorum’ or even ‘Imperium Constantinopolitanus’.
These facts served as precedents for Wolf, who was motivated, at least in part, to reinterpret Roman history in different terms.
Later, the pejorative use of the word Byzantine appeared.
The Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) can be defined as an initially Roman state on a multi-ethnic and multicultural basis, gradually Hellenized, which later developed as a Christian, Hellenistic empire and ended its history as a Greek Orthodox state. Some authors, particularly Greek (Nikolaos Svoronos, for example), but not only (Charles Diehl, Petre Năsturel, George Ostrogorski… ), analyse the Late Empire as a Hellenic nation, close to the modern meaning of this term, and consider it to be the seedbed of modern Greece, which is understandable given that after 1186, the empire effectively controlled only territories populated mainly by ethnic Greeks, namely mainly the coasts of Anatolia, the present European part of Turkey and present-day Greece.
In the centuries following the Arab and Lombard conquests of the 7th century, the multi-ethnic (but not multinational in the present sense of the word) nature of the empire remained present, while its coastal regions and the cities of the Balkans and Asia Minor had a predominantly Hellenized population. Ethnic minorities, important in numerical terms, were sometimes of a different religion (Bogomils in the Balkans, Monophysites in the East) and lived mainly near the borders, with Armenians being the most important among these minorities. In the Balkans, a large population of Romanised Thracians, mentioned by Theophylact of Simocatta in the 6th century, constitutes, according to the analysis of Romanian historians (especially Theodor Capidan, A. D. Xenopol and Nicolae Iorga), the southern symmetry of the population of Romanised Dacians north of the river. Also in the Balkans, another population, the Slavs, were added (south of the Danube) from the 6th century, partly dominated by Avars, or proto-Bulgarians (originally Turkic-speaking peoples), from the 8th century. Finally, several historians such as Eqrem Çabej, Eric Hamp and Walter Porzig have hypothesised that the ancestors of the Albanians are not, as has been thought, descended from the Illyrians (who are the ancestors of the now extinct Romanised Dalmatians), but from the Carpi, free Dacians driven by the Goths in the 4th century towards the Balkans.
The Byzantines called themselves Ρωμαίοι – Romeioi or Romei, by which they distinguished themselves from the ancient Έλληνες – Elini, which in their understanding meant “ancient pagan Greeks”. Historians such as Hélène Ahrweiler have evoked a form of “national consciousness” as citizens of “Ρωμανία” (“Romania”, as the Byzantine Empire was officially called), or rather a pride in being citizens of the Empire, shared especially by intellectuals and Hellenized military men in the cities and border areas, because in the provinces, uprisings, sometimes on an ethnic basis (e.g. the “Vlachs’ uprising”” Asan, Deleanu and Caloian in the Balkans (1181), which ended in 1186 with the independence of the state then called Regnum Bulgarorum et Valachorum, which modern historians call the “Vlach-Bulgarian Land” or “Second Bulgarian Empire”) shows that not all populations were faithful to Byzantine power (especially in times of burdening duties and taxes). This pride, especially Hellenic pride, is reflected in literature or in the Acritic songs, where the “ακρίτες-akrites”, the citizen-soldiers of the marginal, frontier areas, are praised for their struggles to defend the country against the invaders, one of the most famous such songs being the epic poem Digenis Acritas.
The official dissolution of the Byzantine state in the 15th century did not mean the disappearance of Byzantine society. Under Ottoman rule, the Orthodox, particularly the Greeks, continued to define themselves as Ρωμαίοι (Romaioi, in Turkish, Rum), then gradually, with the development of modern nationalism and the revival of ancient history, the Greeks resumed the name Έλληνες (Elines, in Turkish, Yunan), while Ρωμαίοι (Rum) remains used more as a designation for Orthodox believers in general.
Over the centuries, the borders of the Byzantine state have undergone many changes, being a continental empire that between the 4th and 6th centuries stretched over three continents: Europe, Asia and North Africa. After the loss of Egypt, it extended only into Europe and Asia. The Byzantine Empire was a thalassocracy, a maritime power. The Byzantines held control over the entrance to the Pontic Basin. They controlled the Sea of Marmara, the Aegean and the Mediterranean until the 6th century. Constantinople itself stood at the intersection of two major maritime trade routes: the vertical road that linked the Pontic Basin via the Marmara and Aegean Seas to the Mediterranean Sea, and the other, in the southern Black Sea. The prosperity of the Byzantine Empire depended on control of the trade routes, not only the sea routes but also the land routes. Constantinople lay at the crossroads of trade routes linking Asia and Europe.
The mastery of these roads was vital for the Byzantines, as they were used for defence against invasions and for their own expansion, as well as being animated by merchants, missionaries, control over them ensuring prosperity.
Byzantium reached its peak when it mastered all these roads in the 6th and 10th centuries during the Macedonian Dynasty. In the 6th century, Byzantium ruled the Balkan Peninsula, Asia Minor, Upper Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. To these territories were added northern Africa, Italy, the southeastern Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean islands following Justinian’s campaigns of conquest.
The 7th-9th centuries began with the loss of the eastern provinces to the Arabs, and the Balkan territories occupied by the Slavs. Although it lost the southeastern Iberian Peninsula and the Italic Peninsula, the Empire retained Asia Minor and Thrace, the regions essential for the defence of Constantinople, and some cities such as Thessaloniki and Athens and others in Italy.
During the Macedonian Dynasty, in the 10th century, they moved on to reclaim the territories lost during the reign of Emperor Basil II the Macedonian. Byzantium reached its peak again, taking control of the trade routes. After this brilliant moment, a gradual decline began, even though the emperors of the Comnenian dynasty partially restored Byzantine rule in the 10th century. With the Latin conquest of Constantinople, the Byzantine crisis of territorial control began, a problem that became more acute in the 14th century. From the 15th century, the rule of the Byzantine emperors extended only to Constantinople and the surrounding territory.
At its peak, when Justinian died in 565, the Empire had an area of 2 million km², a population of 20 million and an army of 380,000 soldiers.
A century later, in 668, the territory had an area of 1 million km², 10 million inhabitants and 130,000 soldiers in the army.
The situation became more dramatic in the 8th century after successive Arab conquests, when the empire covered 700 000 km², had a population of 7 million and an army of 118 000 soldiers.
At its peak, at the death of Basil II of Macedon in 1025, the empire measured 1.2 million km², had a population of 12 million and an army of 120,000 soldiers.
In 1350, the empire had an area of 120 000 km², a population of 2 million and an army of 10 000 soldiers.
In 1453, it was estimated that there were only 7000 soldiers, Genoese troops and a population of 40,000.
European interest in Byzantine history was evident during the Renaissance, when Venice and Genoa dominated the Byzantine economy in the 13th century. The study of Byzantine history began simultaneously with the emergence of Humanism in Italy (14th-15th centuries), Germany (16th century) and France (17th-18th centuries).
In Italy, the interest has been shown in classical Greek works. As early as the 13th century, Italians were visiting the Byzantine cultural centres of Constantinople, Thessaloniki and Mistra. They researched and copied Greek manuscripts and taught Greek in Italian universities, and the first Greek textbooks were created. In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, and Byzantine scholars like Manuel Chrisoloras, Theodor Gazes and Constantine Lascaris fled the danger, finding refuge in Italy, bringing with them classical works where they wrote the first Greek language textbooks. Procopius of Caesarea’s writings on Justinian’s campaigns in Italy were translated into Latin. Florence, embroiled in wars, and Venice, in its commercial heyday, were interested in classical works. Byzantine scholars settled in Venice in large numbers. In Germany, humanist interest in Byzantium began after the conquest of Hungary and the first siege of Vienna, with Byzantine sources providing details of the Ottoman organisation. Against the background of Luther’s reformation, Byzantine sources offered arguments against the Papacy, regarding the Byzantine emperor-patriarch relationship as more favourable than papal supremacy over all Christian monarchies.
For France, the Byzantine model was followed and taken over by the French absolute monarchs, and the new nobility of robes was formed, while the old nobility of the sword tried to demonstrate its prestige through Byzantine sources. In 1640 the first collection of works by Byzantine authors-Corpus Parisinus-appeared. In 1711 40 volumes appeared. Charles du Fresne, sieur du Cange (1610-1688) was considered the founder of Byzantology, producing the first dictionary of the Greek language and publishing works on the Byzantine world such as The Empire of Constantinople in the Time of the French Emperors, On the Byzantine Families and Byzantine History. He published the first dictionary of the Greek language and medieval Latin language which laid the foundations of Byzantine diplomacy and Greek palaeography. In the Enlightenment era, in the 18th century, the absolute monarchy and the church were criticised and attempts were made to demolish the Byzantine model, as the Enlightenment’s image of Byzantium took on negative features, considering the Byzantine period as a decline of Roman history. The Byzantine Empire was denigrated, and the concepts of “bas empire” and “Byzantinism” were put forward. Charles le Beau (1701 – 1778) wrote a 27-volume work, History of the Late Empire, and Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794) wrote “History of the Decline and Collapse of the Roman Empire”.
The image of Byzantium was rehabilitated in the Romantic phase, with the growing interest in the study of the Middle Ages. The Greek emancipation movement was viewed sympathetically by the West, and the massacre of Greeks on the island of Chios was condemned. The image of Byzantium was gradually idealised. The works of Byzantine authors – the Bonn Corpus – were reprinted, accompanied by Latin translations and explanatory notes.
Byzantine history has been seen as part of Greek history, presented in bright and idealising colours. George Finlay (1799 – 1875) wrote The History of Greece-from the Roman Conquest to the Present Day. Karl Hopf (1832 – 1973) wrote A History of Greece from the Early Middle Ages to the Present Day. Jean Sabatier wrote Description of Byzantine Coins, laying the foundations of Byzantine numismatics, and G. Schumberger laid the foundations of Byzantine sigillography in 1884.
In the scientific-informatic age, the first schools of Byzantinology were established, the first being founded by Karl Krumbacher (1856 – 1909). The first journal on Byzantology appeared. The second school of Byzantology was founded in Russia by Alexander Vasilievsky (1867 – 1953) in which Byzantine imperial and social ideology was taught. The third school of Byzantology was founded in France by Charles Diehl (1859 – 1944). The fourth school of Byzantology appeared in England, founded by John Bury, who re-edited the work of Eduard Gibbon and was concerned with the late history of the Byzantine Empire after 1204. Schools also appeared in the countries of south-eastern Europe: in Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania where Nicolae Iorga founded the Institute of South-East European Studies and Gheorghe Brătianu who dealt with Byzantine socio-economic history. Other schools have also sprung up in Japan, Austria, Italy and in the USA at Dumberton Oaks.
The history of Byzantium has four components:
Byzantine history is traditionally divided into dynasties:
The Byzantine city in the 4th-10th centuries
Constantinople was the political, administrative, economic, religious and cultural centre of the Byzantine Empire. It was founded by Constantine the Great in November 324, two months after his victory over Licinius. He chose the former Megarian colony, Byzantion, as the site where he was to lay the foundations of the new city. The Byzantines shaped the history of the city from the history of Rome, and it was founded out of a conflict between two Megardian settler brothers. When it was attacked by Philip II’s Macedonians, the city’s dogs barked, and the townspeople were alerted and repelled the assault. In the 2nd century, the town was besieged by the Romans during the reign of Emperor Septimius Severus.
Constantine chose this fortress due to a divine inspiration, the late legends having an ideological and propagandistic role. The choice of this city had a strategic and commercial role, Byzantium being located at the intersection of two major trade routes: a vertical one linking the Pontic basin via the Marmara and Aegean Seas to the Mediterranean, and a land route linking Europe to Asia. Constantinople prospered because of its settlement. The imperial centre was moved from the declining west to the still prosperous east.
The city was located near two borders where conflicts were taking place: the Danube border attacked by the Goths and the eastern border attacked by the Sassanids. Constantinople was easier to defend, being surrounded by water on three sides, and easily accessible by land only from the west, the emperors built many fortifications to defend the city, such as the Wall of Theodosius II or the Wall of Anastasius, in order to repel barbarians from the Danube from entering the city.
The shift of the centre of gravity and the establishment of the imperial residence from Rome to other cities such as Mediolanum or Antioch has been taking place for many decades due to the decline of Rome. Links with the eastern provinces were much stronger this way.
Construction of the city began in November 324 and was completed in 336, and the city was inaugurated on 11 May 330. On 11 May each year, festivities were held to celebrate the building of the city, manifested by games at the Hippodrome, processions around a float carrying the statue of the emperor, raised on the porphyry column built during the time of Emperor Constantine. The new city was to become a copy of ancient Rome, with the city built on seven hills. The city was named the “New Rome” or “Second Rome”.
The city was divided into 14 districts and was crossed by the Lykos River. The emperor built a series of buildings modelled on those of Rome: the small imperial palace in the south-east of the city, the hippodrome built next to the imperial palace, the public market-forum of Constantine, etc. During the 4th century Constantinople was only the imperial residence and not the capital. It was not until the time of Theodosius that Constantinople’s position and rights were strongly upheld.
In 381, the importance of the city was recognised, and the Second Ecumenical Council was held there. The third canon recognised the position of the Bishop of Constantinople.
In 395, the city officially became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. In 451 the 4th Ecumenical Council was held at Chalcedon, and by canon XXVIII, it was established that the first place belonged to old Rome, but the fathers gave equal religious and political honours to the new Rome-Constantinople, which enjoyed the presence of the emperor and the senate. In his work “Istoria Nova”, Zosimos reproached Constantine that by founding Constantinople he was only hastening the decline of Rome and the disintegration of the empire. In fact, gold and silver medals were issued depicting two women: symbols of Rome and Constantinople, holding together a shield symbolic of the unity of the empire.
Although Eusebius of Caesarea claimed that the senators were at the funeral of Constantine the Great, historically, the Senate was created by Constantius II, his son. In 359 the prefecture of the city was mentioned which had similar duties to those of the prefect of ancient Rome, and was also called the Eparch of Constantinople. The imperial people was another institution, the inhabitants of Constantinople representing the imperial people, divided into:
There were often clashes between the two demons, such as those in 445 which were extremely violent, starting at the racecourse and continuing through the streets of the city. Demele participated in the appointment and acclaim of the emperor.
The meeting place between the emperor and the imperial people was the Hippodrome, although they did not present the results of the policy. The Demes rebelled and coalesced again in 532 against Justinian, and in 610 another coalition of Demes brought Heraclius to the throne. The Hippodrome was built by Constantine the Great. During the Nika rebellion of 532, the Hippodrome was badly damaged. The horse races were held around the thorn which is still preserved today. The racecourse had a main entrance on the north side, the monumental side. On either side were stables where horses were kept. When the race started, the gates were closed. Above the monumental entrance were gilded bronze horses. The bronze horses are now in San Marco Square.
Demographically, Constantine was supposed to populate the town, sparing it from paying taxes. He brought the aristocracy from Asia Minor to build palaces in the new city. In 326, to organise the city’s supplies, an annual shipment of grain from Egypt was organised in September.
It established “Annona”, distributing free bread, setting a number of 80 000 bread rations distributed daily. In the 360s, the results of Constantine’s policy were evident. His successors took up residence in Constantinople, with people eager to take up administrative, military and commercial positions coming from all corners of the empire.
At the beginning of the reign of Theodosius, the city appeared as a building site, and the accelerated increase in the number of inhabitants caused the population to spread outside the city walls, and a new defensive wall was built between 408-413.
Old Byzantium, rebuilt by Septimus Severus, had an area of 200 hectares and a population of 20-30,000. After the construction of Constantine’s wall, the city had 700 hectares and a population of 100-150,000 by the end of the 4th century. After the construction of Theodosius’ wall, the area of the city doubled to 14 km² and the population continued to grow. By 430, Constantinople’s population had surpassed Rome’s population of 250,000.
Under Justinian, the population doubled to 500,000. After the 7th century, the population fell to 250,000. In the 10th century, the population increased to 400-500 000. From the 13th century, the population went into a long demographic decline, and by the 15th century, the population was estimated at 40 000 inhabitants and 7000 soldiers.
After the conquest of Jerusalem by the Arabs, Constantinople claimed the title of centre of the Christian world. Heraclius brought the Holy Cross to Constantinople where it remained until 1204. From the 7th century, the idea emerged that the city was protected by God, with the Virgin Mary as its patron who repelled many sieges. In the 13th century poems were written depicting the Virgin Mary weeping over the siege of Constantinople by the Latins. The conquest of Constantinople by the Turks was presented as divine punishment inflicted on the newly chosen people for their sins.
Zosimos claimed that Emperor Constantine built the first buildings, the political and religious component of the city being in the south-eastern part, on the shore of the Sea of Marmara. Mese Street ran through Constantinople to the Forum Amastrianum. The economic component was the Golden Port, the Golden Horn Area, which was chained in 1453 during the siege.
The central part of Constantinople was used for the construction of monasteries and many dwellings were located in the coastal area. There was no sewage system and so tanners dumped their hides in the middle of the city.
The imperial palace has been rebuilt, but it retains nothing of the old construction. Constantine originally respected the elements of Roman architecture. The Church of St Sophia is close to the complex. The imperial palace was enlarged by Constantine’s successors until the 11th century, becoming a complex of apartments housing members of the imperial family and their entourage, libraries, chapels, churches, offices and a penitentiary. The palace was decorated and ornamented with gardens and playgrounds. In the 11th century, the buildings within the complex occupied 100 hectares and were difficult to maintain. The imperial residence was moved to the Blacherne Palace. In the 9th century, Emperor Theophilus built the palace of Bucco Leon.
In the Imperial Palace complex was the Hall of 19 Beds dating back to the 4th century, with nine beds on each side, this hall being used for dinners and festive dinners, almost every civil and religious celebration being followed by a dinner attended by the emperor’s guests, and the main hall for ceremonies, The Golden Hall, built in the 6th century, similar to the Basilica San Vitale, with gold-trimmed walls, trees decorated with gems and golden birds singing melodies, and a massive golden throne flanked by two golden lions, as if gradually descending from the dome of the hall to floor level. The main gate of the Imperial Palace was a bronze gate, having been rebuilt in the 6th-10th centuries, with a chapel built above it. Until the time of the Iconoclastic Crisis, the gate was decorated with a portrait of Christ.
The main public square in Constantinople was Augusteon Square built in the 4th century and rebuilt by Justinian, where a statue was erected that could be seen a day’s sail away. Manuscripts were sold in the square and public punishments were carried out.
The Tower of Constantine the Great stands on Mese Street, circular in shape, adorned with statues. The statue of Constantine collapsed in an earthquake and was replaced by the statue of Manuel Comnenus.
The forum of Theodosius the Great was square in shape, modelled on the forum of Rome. His victories were engraved there. Mese Street reached as far as the city’s Golden Gate. The gates were plated with gold leaf and the chapel in Constantine’s wall was decorated with statues.
The wall of Theodosius II had three gates, a large central golden gate where the emperor entered, between two smaller gates, and statues of elephants on the wall. Constantine’s wall did not survive, while small portions of Theodosius’ wall survived and was built between 408-413.
The main aqueduct was built in Valens’ time, water was brought from 100 km from the city and stored in huge cisterns. The Basilica cistern was built in the 4th century and rebuilt by Justinian. The Turks are said to have discovered it during a severe drought. There is also a cistern inside the Imperial Palace, but it didn’t last.
Constantinople had several religious buildings such as the churches of Saint Irina, the Church of Saint Sophia, the Church of the Holy Apostles. The Church of Saint Sophia was built in 532 and inaugurated on 25 December 537.
From 1453, the Church of the Holy Apostles became the Patriarchate, while St Sophia was transformed into a mosque. Next to the Church of the Holy Apostles is the Mausoleum of Constantine. Most of the emperors were buried in the Pantocrato, others in the Church of the Holy Apostles.
The Byzantine city in the 10th-11th centuries
In the 9th century, after a period of decline, there was a revival of urban life in the Roman state, based on nomisma, the Byzantine coinage. The process of revival was closely linked to the resumption of control over the main trade routes in the context of the great Byzantine military expansion of the 9th century. IX-X. Trade was conducted in three directions:
Small trade played an important role for the state treasury, which charged merchants a tax-commerkion: 10-18% of the value of goods. The main source providing information on the organisation of urban life is the Book of the Eparch, attributed to Emperor Leo VI the Elder, although it is later determined to be a collection of rules and regulations made during the 10th century. The document reveals a broad picture of crafts and commercial life in Constantinople, paying particular attention to the guilds, which also existed in other cities. Eparch
He had considerable administrative and legal powers and was responsible for maintaining order in the city. He had the right to punish offences committed, to supervise freed slaves, markets, performances, public events, to prohibit the entry of certain individuals into the city or certain districts, and had an urban police force under his orders. Its task was to keep the city clean, to decorate it when the Basile left the imperial palace or when foreign sovereigns came to town. He was considered the voice of the emperor, through whom the basile spoke to the people, and when the sovereign was absent, the eparch was entrusted with the running of the Byzantine capital.
He wielded considerable power and was responsible for the city’s prosperity. Production, sales, trades, corporations were under his direct control, and through his representatives, the quality of products and raw materials was controlled. They limited trade profits, prevented stockpiling so that merchants could earn higher incomes in times of crisis, set market prices, made decisions on the import and export of goods, accepted or expelled members within a guild, opened shops, workshops or offices, and settled serious misdemeanours or differences within guilds.
The bishop also had a large auxiliary staff. The most important service was the prefect’s chancellery, which had its own seal for correspondence and orders, to be affixed to units of measure and weight, as a guarantee of compliance with the rules and to guarantee the quality of products. The supervision of the guilds was entrusted to a large staff led by the eparch’s lieutenant, legatharios, appointed by the prefect with the emperor’s approval, with the special task of supervising imports and exports as well as foreign merchants coming to the city. Among the auxiliaries was a maritime inspector, who controlled ships in the city’s ports, both incoming and outgoing.
At the beginning of the 11th century, the eparch became a major figurehead of the state. A bishop like Roman Argyros became a basilion in 1028 after marrying the porphyrogenette Zoe. At the end of the 11th century, the emperor’s power declined and some of his powers were taken over by other magistrates. In the 12th century, the settlement of Italian merchants in Constantinople in their own quarters restricted the eparch’s authority, but the office was maintained until the Ottoman conquest.
At the head of the guilds were “prostatai” or “exarchoi”, and at the head of the guild of notaries was the primate. Not every corporation had a head. There was only one chief for the guilds of notaries, silversmiths, Syrian cloth merchants, soap makers and saddlers. The guilds had several bosses: tavern keepers, fish merchants, pig-keepers, raw silk merchants. There were guilds that were run by bosses like bankers, silk merchants, toasters and perfumers. There were no special rules for them.
The head of the guild was appointed directly by the eparch, elected from among the guild members. In the case of the guild of notaries, the succession went to the eldest, approved by all his colleagues. The heads of the guilds regulated relations with the state, represented by the eparch, ensured compliance with the rules and regulations concerning the guild, reported serious offences and punished minor ones, and notified the prefect’s representative or the prefect of foreign goods purchased by the guilds. According to the Eparch’s Charter, in order to enter a guild, a person had to be a member of no other guild, not a foreigner, a free man, to have his moral integrity and abilities checked (like the candidate for the guild of notaries who had to prove honesty, eloquence, good memory and sound legal culture), to be accepted by the other members, the head of the guild and the prefect and to pay a fee. The number of members was only determined for the notaries’ corporation. Serious offences were severely punished by shaving, whipping, cutting off of hands. A person wishing to open an office or a shop or to start a commercial activity had to be a member of the guild dealing with the field in which he wished to profess and to be approved by the eparch. The production of purple and other luxury fabrics was forbidden in urban workshops, being under the monopoly of the state, carried out only in the workshops of the imperial palace for the use of the court and for gifts to foreign princes. In Byzantium there were a large number of guilds which brought in important incomes and were increasingly specialised. There is a clear separation between producers and merchants: silk spinners, weavers, dyers, merchants of brown silk, merchants of silk cloth, merchants of Syrian silk fabrics.
The state intervention was aimed at internal trade and tried to avoid creating a surplus of goods and good supplies for the city in order to prevent the outbreak of a crisis in the capital, as a possible revolt of the population could endanger the imperial throne. Commercial and economic activities took place in well-established locations, with the centre of the capital reserved for the luxury goods trade – jewellery and perfumes – along Mese Street. Those who sold products that gave off smells had to do so on the outskirts of the city to avoid disturbing the population. Only grocers could open shops throughout the town to sell basic necessities. Units of measurement and weight were controlled, and offences such as selling inferior products, counterfeiting coins or tampering with precious metals were severely punished.
Selling purple and jewellery outside the empire was forbidden. The quantity of goods exported was determined by the authorities and was subject to the needs of the capital. Byzantine economic activity was directed by the authorities for the benefit of the state and the Byzantine population, in order to ensure order in the city and to avoid any discontent or revolt in the capital that might threaten the imperial throne.
The imperial idea of an infinite empire in space-time was of Eastern origin, being taken over from the Greeks by the Romans, then by the Byzantines. Eusebius of Caesarea was considered to be the theorist of Byzantine imperial ideology. He and his teacher were victims of Christian persecution under Diocletian. He was imprisoned, but was released under Galerius and became one of Constantine the Great’s close advisors.He attended the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 and tried a compromise formula which was unsuccessful, and the formula of the Bishop of Alexandria was adopted.
Eusebius of Caesarea wrote many works and a universal chronicle in which he introduced the chronological dimension. He inaugurated the genre of ecclesiastical history. He wrote the “Vita Constantini” and the festive speech delivered in 336 on the 30th anniversary of Emperor Constantine’s reign. He believed that the existence of the Roman Empire was an expression of God’s will and the divine kingdom, the earthly hierarchy being taken over after the heavenly one. The Romans saw themselves as God’s new chosen people. The empire was unique and universal and ruled mankind.It had no spatial limits and encompassed the entire known world. Any expansion was justified by imposing the Christian faith on all peoples. It had no temporal limits, the finality being the entry of the earthly empire into the divine plan.
The king’s power was legitimized by God, the king being God’s representative and chosen one on earth. Every act of the emperor was divinely inspired, being an imitator of Christ’s actions. He had the providential mission entrusted to him by divinity to make Christianity reign over the whole earth. The king was considered a new Moses appointed by God to lead the new chosen people. The King was considered the thirteenth apostle, with sacred power. Byzantine emperors were depicted with the aura of saints from their lifetime and everything they owned was sacred, from the Imperial Palace to the imperial domains.
Although he was considered God’s chosen one, he was chosen by the senate, the army and the imperial people. The role fell to the army in times of tension, with the ceremony taking place in the city’s military camp. As part of the ceremony, the Byzantines took over from the Romans the raising of the chosen emperor wearing a diadem on a shield in the middle of the army, followed by the gratification of the senate and the cheers of the people.
In stable periods, the most important role was played by the senate, while other rites were respected. The senate appointed the new emperor, with the ceremony also taking place in the military camp and ending with the acclamation of the people. From the 5th century onwards, the Church also intervened in the appointment of the emperor, through the act of religious coronation designed to reinforce the idea of the emperor’s election as a result of divine will. The first emperor to be crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople was Leo I, the ceremony taking place in the Church of St Stephen in the Imperial Palace. The emperor received the insignia of imperial power: the crown, the purple mantle and the purple-red silk shoes which were an attribute of imperial power. During the religious ceremony, however, the emperor crowned himself.
After the 5th century, the Church gained as much power as possible, with Emperor Anastasius I being forced to sign an oath-promissio. He came to the throne after marrying the former emperor’s widow, but was known to be a heretic. He was forced to sign that he would renounce Monophysitism. During the Macedonian dynasty, the only person recognised on the throne was the one who organised the coronation ceremony held in the 8th century Church of St Sophia. The emperor was supreme commander of the army, had legislative powers, was the protector of the church and had absolute power in theory. In practice, however, there were a number of factors that limited imperial power, as the emperor was the representative of a group that came to the imperial throne and had to take its interests into account, and could pass laws but could not violate an existing one. The Church recognised the emperor’s privileges, certain rights that elevated him above his subjects. He was recognised to respect the imperial institution and to be a model for his subjects. There were patriarchs who opposed emperors who no longer respected principles.
There is no clear rule on inheritance of the throne, so it was not always the first born who received the throne. The throne went to the most able son, and there were cases where both children received the throne, risking civil war. Inspired by God, the emperor designated his heir during his lifetime, and if he had no sons, he would join another relative or person on his own merits to the throne, and that person was declared co-emperor. In the case of the appointment of a co-emperor, the same rites were followed as in the appointment of the emperor, except that in the religious ceremony the emperor crowned the co-emperor. The heir to the throne was given the dignity of Caesar, which would lose its importance in the 7th century. From the end of the 7th century it was also bestowed on others who would not succeed to the throne. The imperial title was retained from the Roman period, whereby the emperor was given certain exceptional powers and honorific epithets glorifying his victories for life. The official title was ‘Emperor’. In the 7th century, the protocol was changed under Heraclius. From 629, the official title of the Byzantine emperor was ‘Basileus’ after the title ‘Emperor’ no longer had any particular significance for the Greek population.
After 800, following the coronation of Charles the Great as Emperor of the Romans, the Byzantines changed the protocol and the official title of the emperors became “Basil of the Romans”.
In the mid-century. In the mid-9th century, Byzantium adapts its political theory to the new realities, with the caveat that the Byzantine Empire abandons universalism. On the contrary, it returns to this theory. The Empire is still seen as boundless in time and space, and the power of the emperor is universal, absolute and of divine origin. This idea can be analysed in one of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus’ works (On the Administration of the Empire). Thus all the inhabitants of the earth must worship the Byzantine emperor.
In sec. In the 9th century, Byzantium evolves in a new context and has to adapt its ideology to the new realities: the emergence of Christian states (a Christian Armenian kingdom and Christian principalities of the Serbs).
For this reason, Byzantium could no longer support universalism in the terms formulated by Eusebius of Caesarea. The main novelty is the family of princes, which in the Byzantine view was a spiritual family of Christian princes, headed by the Emperor of Constantinople, who was the spiritual father and the only one able to legitimise the power of all Christian princes. The emperor of the West was considered the brother of the emperor of Constantinople. The Bulgarian Tsar was considered the ‘beloved son of the Emperor’. Next came the ‘friends’ of the emperor in Constantinople (Doges of Venice, rulers of Genovia, kings of England, etc.) and at the bottom of the pyramid were the subjects, the doulos, including Serbian and Romanian princes.
The ruler of each Christian state was integrated into the family of princes according to how much he could be of use to the empire, the degree of independence of the state he ruled, the attitude and resources available to each ruler.
In sec. 10th century, the Bishop of Cremona, Liutprand, was sent by Otto the Great to the Emperor to obtain recognition of Otto’s title of Emperor, and was deeply indignant when he was seated at the table behind the Bulgarian Tsar’s representative.
The emperor, by virtue of his position in the family of princes, was God’s sole representative on earth. The Byzantine emperors did not emphasise this in their title, as it was taken for granted. Also, the emperors were the only ones able to legalize the power of Christian princes and granted privileges to them (they did not conclude treaties on equal footing), they were the only ones who could grant chrysobule (Golden Bubbles), could use red ink and purple (it was produced only in the workshops of the imperial court and was used only by the emperor and the imperial court; could give a foreign prince pieces of purple as a gift). In addition to all this, the emperor could make mosaic panels (they would also appear in the 12th century in Sicily, being made by the Normans without the emperor’s approval). Any revolt against the emperor was considered a revolt against God and the leader of the revolt was considered an apostate.
There were other aspects that helped to highlight the position of the emperor. An extensive description of the ceremonies of the Byzantine imperial court is given by Constantine VII in his work On the Ceremonies of the Byzantine Court. According to this source, Byzantine ceremonial is so strictly regulated because it is intended to highlight the greatness of the empire and the emperor, the majestic and inaccessible character of the Byzantine emperor. In this ceremony, each person knew their place in the ceremony and a solemn silence was maintained.
During the ceremonies no one was allowed to come into direct contact with the person of the emperor who was of a holy character. Even when a person received an object, it was passed on through the hands of intermediaries, and if it was received directly from the emperor, he covered his hands with the lap of his cloak so as not to come into direct contact with the emperor’s hands.
In order to solve the problem of succession to the throne, from the mid-18th century onwards the IXth century, the hereditary principle is imposed. Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty, Leon VI the Elder introduces the institution of porphyrogeniture (those born in the purple chamber acquire uncontested rights to inherit the throne). Porphynogenes also appeared before this time, but it was in the 9th century that this institution appeared.
The first to benefit from this right and to be born in the purple room was Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (always the church accepting compromises that result in the welfare of the state).
The emperor’s mission is adapted to the new realities. A masterly exposition of the emperor’s mission is given by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photios, in a collection of laws from the time of Basil I of Macedon. The first title of this collection of laws is dedicated to the emperor, defined as the legitimate authority, the emperor’s goal being to ensure the preservation of the empire’s goods, to recover lost goods and to acquire through his victories the goods he lacks. This is the idea that henceforth justifies the empire’s reconquering actions, it being the Byzantine emperors’ obligation to extend their rule over the whole land.
The “Constantinian” principle was the basis for the affirmation of the superiority of the Byzantine emperor, who was regarded by his subjects as the master of the whole world. This principle is expounded by the same emperor, Constantine VII in his work On the Administration of the Empire, referring to the insignia of the first Christian emperor (these insignia were not to be left to anyone). Marriages could be made with the Franks, since they were Christians and formed an empire.
As for the imperial title, from 812 the title “Basil of the Romans” began to be used. In the 10th century a change in the imperial protocol (linked to the recognition of Tsar Peter), the title of Basileus of the Bulgarians appeared, and Peter was introduced into the family of princes. After the recognition of Peter’s title, the Byzantine emperors adopted the title “Autokrator” in their title, which had a double meaning: absolute power internally, and externally, the emperor was not dependent on anyone but God.
The title was later taken over by the Bulgarian Tsar in 1016. In the Romanian area it was taken over in the form of “sole master”. Obviously, all these prerogatives could be usurped when a prince wanted to assert his departure from the family of princes, taking over some of the signs of the Byzantine emperor’s power and even the imperial title. This is what Simeon did in the 10th century and Peter Asan did. This theory was not really challenged until the 15th century.
Constantine Dynasty (306 – 363)
Towards the end of the 3rd century, the Roman Empire was going through a period of crisis, on the verge of profound changes brought about by Diocletian’s reforms. The crisis was military, fiscal and political in nature, and was unfolding simultaneously with invasions, usurpations and permanent wars that were disrupting the Roman economic mechanism.
Diocletian undertook reforms in organization, production and taxation . As land was abandoned due to internal political anarchy and burdensome taxation, the state granted small producers benefits such as tax exemptions and the enlargement of the crown’s domains. Control over the production and disposal of goods was introduced and a state monopoly was established over the arms, mining or silk industries, either to obtain revenue for the public treasury or to maintain secrecy of production.
The fiscal unit-the area of land that could be worked by a person-was dissociated from his or her capacity to work, and the annona-land (jugatio) and person (capitatio) taxes were imposed. Taxes were instituted on the exercise of a profession in industry and commerce (“chrysargyron”), levied in gold coins, on the circulation (pontoria) and sale of goods (octava, siliqualicum). Due to the alteration of the alloy and the decrease in its weight, the Roman coinage depreciated, thus imposing a central authority in monetary reform. Diocletian introduced a price ceiling in an edict of 301, instituting the death penalty for those who stockpiled goods and violated the edict’s provisions to curb inflation.
Diocletian abolished the institutions of the Principate. The Empire ceased to be a confederation of fortresses and became a rigidly centralised state, ruled from Constantinople and populated by doulos (subjects) led by a despot (lord). This Eastern influence increased the distance between the emperor and his subjects. The inhabitants of the empire continued, at least in the sources, to be presented as politai (citizens), following the Roman line.
The emperor becomes a sacred figure. He is worshipped after the model of oriental despots. At court the custom of proskynesis before the emperor (lat. adoratio) is introduced. The Senate loses its important role in the state. It is made up more of those new men who lacked the strong Roman conscience. The senatorial provinces and the last privileges of Italy disappear. At the central level, the palace is the most important administrative centre, where a series of offices (skrinia) populated by civil servants who dealt with central administrative matters functioned.
Important changes are also taking place in the provincial administration. The Empire is reorganised administratively. Around 120 provinces were established under Diocletian and grouped into dioceses. There were 12 dioceses in Diocletian’s time (14 in Constantine the Great’s time).
Diocletian introduces the Diarchy – each part of the empire being ruled by an August. To complete it, he introduces Tetrarchy – each August being doubled by a Caesar who was elevated to this rank according to his merits.
In the 4th century, the Roman Empire was going through a period of spiritual crisis. Paganism had clashed with Christianity, officially recognised by Emperor Constantine the Great. But later, Christianity and paganism overlapped, forming the Eastern Greek-Christian culture, known as ‘Byzantine’, whose centre was Constantinople, the new capital of the Christian Roman Empire. Constantine, born in Naissus, belonged to an Illyrian family and his mother, Helena, had converted to Christianity. She even went on a pilgrimage to Palestine and found the supposed cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified according to tradition.
In 305, Diocletian and Maximian relinquished their imperial ranks. They were succeeded by Galerius, who became Augustus of the East, and Constantius I, Constantine’s father, became Augustus of the West. Constantius died in 306 in Britain, and the legions proclaimed his son Constantine as ‘August’.
In the meantime, a rebellion broke out in Rome, in which the army and the population rebelled and overthrew Galerius, Maxentius, Maximian’s son, being proclaimed the rightful new emperor. Constantine formed an alliance with Augustus Licinius and defeated Maxentius in 312 at the Battle of Milvian Bridge near Rome. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber when he tried to retreat. The two victorious emperors, Constantine and Licinius, met at Mediolanum, where the famous ‘Edict of Mediolanum’ was proclaimed. Peaceful relations between the two emperors did not last long and soon a battle broke out in which Constantine won the decisive victory. Licinius was killed in 324 and Constantine became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.
Constantine is said to have been converted by tradition when he witnessed the appearance of the luminous cross in the sky before the battle between him and Maxentius. Lactanius writes in the book “On the Death of the Persecutors” that he received a warning from the deity in his sleep to engrave the Christian symbol on his shields. Eusebius of Caesarea wrote in his “Historia ecclesiastica” that the emperor set out to save Rome and invoked God in prayer. In the ‘Life of Constantine’ he writes that he witnessed the appearance of a luminous cross at sunset, accompanied by the words In hoc signo vinces (‘under this sign you will win’). He and his legions were filled with awe. The next night, Jesus Christ appeared to Constantine in his sleep, bearing the same sign, and commanded him to paint the shields and set out against the enemy. At dawn, the emperor told those close to him of the dream and called upon the craftsmen to make the “labarum” banner, which was a cross as long as a spear, with a silk flame hanging from the crossbar, embroidered with gold and adorned with precious stones, bearing the faces of Constantine and his two sons, and at the top of the cross was a golden wreath encircling the monogram of Christ.
As for the causes of Constantine’s “conversion”, unlike Eusebius’ bibliography, some historians have given him a different portrait. The historian Boissier wrote in his work “The End of Paganism” that Emperor Constantine was in fact a sceptic, uninterested in any religion, preferring the one that would bring him many benefits.
On the other hand, the historian Jacob Burckhardt argued in his work The Age of Constantine the Great that the emperor was a genius, driven by lofty ambitions and a strong desire for power, a man who would sacrifice everything for the fulfillment of his worldly dreams, understanding that Christianity would become a universal force.
Adolf Harnack notes in “The Mission and Spread of Christianity in the First Three Centuries” that Christianity was an urban religion and that a small circle of people could exert a powerful influence if its members came from the ruling classes. He concluded that the headquarters of the Christian Church was Asia Minor in the early 4th century.
Constantine even lived at Diocletian’s court in Nicomedia before settling in Gaul. Paganism still dominated the state and society, however, and Christians were a minority, making up a tenth of the empire’s population, according to Prof. V. Bolotov. Duruy in his History of Rome and the Roman People, writing that Emperor Constantine was aware that Christianity, through its fundamental dogmas, was a belief in a single god.
Constantine was determined to favour paganism and Christianity in order to maintain unity and stability. With the diabolical insight of a universal master, he understood the importance of alliance with the church. What led him to convert seems to be not for political reasons, as Christians were a minority at the time, but out of conviction.
He had been influenced by the example of the Zoroastrian church in Persia. Although his conversion is associated with the Battle of Milvius Bridge in 312 and his victory over Maxentius, the actual conversion to Christianity took place in the year of his death. Constantine remained pontifex maximus throughout his reign. Sunday was referred to as dies solis (day of the sun), the ‘sol invictus’ being none other than the Persian god Mithra, whose cult was widespread in the empire, rivaling Christianity. Constantine was a devout follower of the sun cult of Apollo. However, he initiated a policy of tolerance towards Christianity, understanding that in the future Christianity was the main unifying element of the Empire.
The first decree favouring Christianity was issued in 311 by Galerius, by one of his own fiercest persecutors. By means of the decree, Christians were forgiven for previous opposition to decisions designed to return them to paganism. In 313, Constantine met Licinius at Mediolanum, with only a Latin rescript of Licinius sent to the Perfect of Nicomedia, recorded by Lactantius, surviving. Christians and other followers of other religions were given complete freedom to follow whatever religion they wished. Churches and private buildings confiscated from Christians were freely and unreservedly returned to them.
The edict promulgated at Mediolanum in 313 was a confirmation of the edict of Galerius in 311. It was not an edict as such, but a letter to the governors of the provinces of Asia Minor and the East, explaining and instructing them how to treat the Christians, who had equal rights with the pagans. The Christian clergy were granted the privileges accorded to pagan priests, being exempted from paying taxes and debts to the state, from services in the service of the state which might have diverted them from their religious duties, and were entitled to immunity.
Each man could leave his property as an inheritance to the church, acquiring the right of patrimony. In addition to proclaiming religious freedom, Christian communities were recognised as legal entities. Any man had the right to move a civil suit to an episcopal court if his opponent agreed. The bishop’s decision was accepted as final, any civil case could be moved to the bishop’s court at any stage of the process, but the decisions of the bishop’s court had to be sanctioned by civil judges. Judicial privileges increased the bishops’ authority in society. The Church was materially enriched by gifts of landed property from state resources or by donations of money and grain. Christians were no longer obliged to participate in pagan feasts. Christian influence softened the punishment for criminals.
Constantine built many churches in the empire, in Antioch, Nicomedia and North Africa, as well as in the Italian peninsula, as the Basilica of St Peter in Rome and the Basilica of St John Lateran are attributed to him. His mother, Helena, is said to have discovered the real cross on a pilgrimage in Palestine. He built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The new capital, Constantinople, and its suburbs were embellished with new churches, such as the Church of the Holy Apostles and the Church of St. Irene; he also laid the foundation of St. Sophia, finished by Constantius, his successor.
The Christian Church went through a period of immense activity, focusing on dogma. Synods became the hallmark of the period, seen as the only means of settling controversies. The state took part in religious disputes, whose interests did not correspond to those of the church. The cultural centre of the East was the Egyptian city of Alexandria, where intellectual activity erupted, becoming the centre of theological development in the East and acquiring a particular fame in the Christian world as a philosophical church. A priest, Arian of Alexandria, whose name bears a teaching considered “heretical” that had its roots in the second half of the third century in Antioch, where Lucian founded a school of theological exegesis, expounded the idea that the son of God was a created being. Beyond the borders of Egypt, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, and Eusebius, bishop of Nicomidia, sided with Arian. Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, denied him the Holy Eucharist despite the efforts of his supporters.
In 324, after defeating Licinius, Constantine arrived in Nicomidia, receiving complaints from his opponents and Arian supporters. Wishing to maintain religious peace in the empire, and understanding the importance of the dogmatic controversy, Constantine sent a letter to Bishop Alexander and Arie, ordering them to reach a settlement. The letter had been taken to Alexandria by Bishop Osius of Cordoba. On his return, he explained the situation to the emperor and then Constantine convened a synod presided over by him personally by imperial edict at Nicaea in Bithynia, the participants being mostly Eastern bishops, debating the Arian dispute. After heated discussions led by Athanasius, the archdeacon of the Church of Alexandria, Arian’s opponent, Arian’s heresy was condemned and after introducing some corrections, the Creed was adopted, by which Jesus Christ was confessed to be the son of God, uncreated and deofiance of the Father . The Nicene Creed was even signed by many Arian bishops, and Arian was exiled and deprived of his freedom. However, the Council of Nicaea failed to end the Arian disputes, but generated new movements and Constantine was forced to make some concessions. After a few years, Arian and his followers were recalled from exile, and the leaders of the Nicene Creed were exiled instead. Constantine remained a pagan until the last year of his life (337), only on his deathbed being baptized by Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomidia, an Arian.
Constantine increased the number of provinces, dioceses, prefectures. He came up with social and economic measures, also in an attempt to stop the crisis and revive the Roman Empire. A first measure, to secure labour: in 332, he tied the colonist to the land and the craftsman to his trade. He initiated the Monetary Reform by which he introduced gold coinage called solidus (lat.) or nomisma (gr.) of about 24 carats. The gold coin was the standard of the medieval economy for almost a millennium, until the 11th century.
It was also Constantine the Great who established economic monopolies over certain branches
Byzantium was a city that enjoyed strategic and commercial advantages, being located on the border of Asia and Europe, bordering the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. In the 7th century BC, on the Asian shore of the southern limit of the Bosphorus, the Megardians founded a colony called Chalcedon. According to Herodotus’ “Histories” which criticizes the Megardians for the wrong location, a few years after the founding, another group of Megardians established the colony of Byzantium on the European shore of the Bosphorus. Byzantium played an important role in the Medicean Wars and in the time of Philip of Macedon, and Polybius analysed the political and economic position of the city, stating that the Byzantines controlled the unmissable goods of Pontus and the sea routes of the Black Sea.
At the end of the 2nd century AD, it was subjected to a devastating looting during a war fought by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. When Constantine wanted to found a new capital, he thought of Naissus, Sardica and Thesalonica. He turned his attention to Troy, the city of Aeneas, who had come to Latium to lay the foundations of the new Roman state. The emperor personally set the boundaries of the future city. The gates were built, but one night God told Constantine to build the new capital at Byzantium. It was a simple village at the time, stretching all the way to the Sea of Marmara.
In 324 he decided to found the new capital, and in 325, he began construction of the main buildings. The emperor, spear in hand, traced the outline of the city’s surface guided by the deity. Workers were brought in from all over, as well as materials, and pagan monuments from Rome, Athens, Alexandria, Ephesus and Antioch were used for embellishment. As many as 40,000 Phoederati Goths took part in the work. The new capital was granted commercial and financial privileges in order to attract a large population.
On 11 May 330, the new capital was inaugurated and ceremonies and celebrations were held for 40 days. The city’s population exceeded 200 000. Constantine built a defensive wall stretching from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara. Byzantium became the “City of Constantine”-Constantinople. Rome’s municipal system was adopted and divided into 14 districts, two of which were outside the city walls. Not many of Constantine’s monumental creations have survived, with the church of St Irina being rebuilt twice and the surviving snake-shaped column of Delphi dating from the 5th century BC, commemorating the Spartan victory at Plataea, being brought and fixed in the Hippodrome.
Constantine’s city had many political, economic and cultural advantages due to its strategic position. It was called Nova Roma, with a defensive system to resist enemies, inaccessible from the sea and protected by walls. It controlled the trade of the Black Sea with the Aegean and Mediterranean, becoming the commercial intermediary between Europe and Asia. From a simple colony, a city had become the political, religious, economic and cultural centre of an ephemeral reunited empire.
After the death of Constantine the Great, a feud broke out between Constantine’s three sons. Constantine and Constans were followers of the Nicene creed, while Constantius continued his father’s religious policy of the latter part of his life, siding with the Arians. Constantine and Constans did not survive the battle, and Constantius proclaimed himself emperor as Constantius II. He decreed that pagan temples be closed and forbade the offering of sacrifices under threat of death and confiscation of property. He ordered the removal of the shrine of Victory from the Senate and many other monuments considered ‘pagan’. Clergy exemptions were extended, with bishops exempt from civil suits. He bore the title Pontifex Maximus. Although he spoke out radically against paganism, he did not banish vestals and priests from Rome and even ordered the election of a priest for Africa. Differences between the Arians and the Niceans intensified. He died in 361 during the Persian campaign, and was not much missed by either the Niceans or the pagans, who were jubilant at the election of Julian Apostate as emperor, who had succeeded in driving the Germans across the Rhine. The Senate even listed the deceased emperor among the old gods.
Immediately after his accession to the throne, Julian issued an edict recalling all the bishops exiled during the reign of his predecessor emperor and returning to them their confiscated property. At first, he granted religious freedom to all. Later, being an avowed follower of the sun cult, he offered privileges to those who renounced Christianity and even enticed people to participate in the bringing of the serfs according to Jerome. Christians were removed from civil and military posts and replaced by pagans. Constantine’s “Labarum” was abolished, and the crosses on soldiers’ shields were replaced with the old pagan symbols. He initiated school reform, appointing teachers in the main cities of the Empire, who were chosen and approved by the emperor, arguing that those who wanted to teach should be men of integrity and not hold views incompatible with the spirit of the state. It was considered absurd for people who interpreted the ancient works of ancient authors to despise the old gods.
It banned Christians from teaching and studying in public schools. Christian writers like Apollinaris the Elder and Apollinaris the Younger set out to create their own literature, translating the psalms in the style of Pindar’s odes, the Pentateuch was rendered in hexameters, and the gospels were rewritten in the style of Plato’s dialogues. In 362 Julian made a journey to the eastern provinces, stopping at Antioch, where the population was predominantly Christian. He encountered unpleasant incidents, expecting grand celebrations dedicated to the gods. But he found in the temple of Apollo at Daphnae only one priest and one sacrificial host. The burning of the temple provoked a hatred of Christians. He ordered the Christians punished and the churches of Antioch closed, looted and desecrated. The Christians retaliated by destroying the statues of the gods. In 363 Julian left Antioch and began the campaign against the Persians, being wounded by a spear. He died shortly afterwards.
According to legend, St. Basil prayed before an icon depicting Mercurius as a soldier carrying a spear. He prayed that God would not allow Emperor Julian the Apostate to wage war against the Persians and resume his oppression of the Christians. The image of the Holy Great Martyr Mercurius depicted on the icon became invisible, only to reappear later with a bloody spear. Julian the Apostate was mortally wounded by the spear of an unknown soldier. He threw a fistful of his own blood from the wound into the sky and exclaimed: “You have defeated the Galilean!”.
Iovian, head of the court guard and a Nicean Christian, was proclaimed emperor. He signed a peace treaty with Persia, giving up several provinces on the east bank of the Tigris. Julian’s death was joyously celebrated by Christians. However, he was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles. The Constantine dynasty was over.
Valentinian Dynasty (364 – 379)
During the Valentinian dynasty, the empire was divided (364) and suffered from barbarian invasions. As tribunus scutariorum, Valentian was proclaimed emperor at Nicaea by the army on the death of Iovianus. He appointed his younger brother Flavius Valens as co-emperor and entrusted him with the government of the East, reserving for himself the government of the western provinces from Augusta Treverorum (Trier) (the two parts of the empire thus began to be administered separately). An active and energetic spirit, Valentinian had great merits in strengthening the borders on the Rhine and the Middle Danube, repelling attacks by the Alamanni in Gaul (368), the Franks and Saxons on the Rhine, and the Sarmatians and Quazars on the Danube. He was constantly concerned with improving administration and legislation, curbing abuses and excessive taxation. He proved to be a good Christian emperor, restoring the privileges given to the Christian clergy by Constantine. An adherent of Nicene orthodoxy, he was also tolerant of pagan cults. In 367 he appointed his younger son Gratian co-emperor. He was against paganism and Arianism. He destroyed the Altar of Victory in the Senate House. He took part with Theodosius in driving the Goths out of the Balkans in the Gothic War (376-382).
Valens, meanwhile, was proving to be far inferior to his brother in terms of military, political and administrative skills. In domestic politics he was noted for his reprisals against senatorial aristocratic circles and his support for Arianism. After suppressing the usurpation of Procopius (a high dignitary related to Julian Apostate), he waged war on the Lower Danube (367-369) against the Visigoths who threatened the Roman provinces and supported the usurper. Under pressure from the Hun invasion, Valens accepted the Visigoths’ settlement in the southern Danube in 376. On the religious front, although an avowed adherent of Arianism, he became intolerant of all other Christian doctrines. The plunder to which they were subjected by the local imperial authorities triggered a great anti-Roman uprising. At the Battle of Adrianople on 9 August 378 , which he engaged without waiting for the arrival of the Western contingents led by Gratian, the Roman army was defeated by Frithigern’s Visigoths, supported by Ostrogothic contingents, and Valens met his death on the battlefield. Because Valentian II (Emperor of the West), the son of Valentian I, who declared himself an Arian, had no decisive role in the internal politics of the empire, under Gratian the policy of religious tolerance was no longer respected and the Nicene Creed was favoured. In 379, Gratian gave up the eastern throne, seating the general Theodosius I. The Valentinian dynasty was over.
Theodosian Dynasty (379 – 457)
As Augustus I, Theodosius I faced two problems: restoring unity within the empire on the religious level and defending the empire from the Goths. Arriving in Constantinople, he proposed to the Arian bishop to renounce Arianism and join the Nicene Creed. The bishop refused and left the capital. The churches in the city were handed over to the Niceans. He began a bitter struggle with the pagans and heretics, inflicting harsh punishments.
By the decree of 380, only those who believed in the Holy Trinity as preached in the evangelistic writings were considered Catholics, while the others were considered “fools and foolish persons who adhered to the wicked heretical doctrine”, were not allowed to call their meeting places churches and were liable to severe punishment. He issued further decrees forbidding heretics to hold public and private assemblies, the right of assembly being reserved only to adherents of the Nicene Creed. The civil rights of heretics were restricted with regard to wills and inheritances. Theodosius wanted to restore peace and stability to the Christian Church.
In 381 he convened a synod in Constantinople. It disputed the heresy of Macedonius, a semi-Arian who tried to prove that the Holy Spirit was created; it reinforced the decision of the Nicene symbol of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit being of one being with the Father and the Son. He established the rank of the Patriarch of Constantinople in relation to the Bishop of Rome.
Theodosius broadened the privileges granted by some of his predecessors to bishops and priests in terms of personal duties, responsibilities to the court. He imposed on the church debts to the state, called “extraordinaria munera”. The church could no longer be a refuge for villains, nor could it shelter those indebted to the state from debt collectors.
Following the massacres at Thessalonica, Theodosius came into conflict with St Ambrose, Bishop of Mediolanum, who held opposing views on the relationship between Church and State. Theodosius advocated the supremacy of the State over the Church, while Ambrose argued that the Church could not be subject to an ephemeral power. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius for favouring the Germanic Thessalonians who held high ranks in his army and for massacring citizens who rebelled violently. Theodosius himself was forced to admit his guilt publicly and made his repentance imposed by Ambrose.
Theodosius forbade sacrifices, fortune-telling in the intestines of sacrificed animals, and attendance at pagan temples, many of which were closed, some of which were used by the state, and some of which were torn down and destroyed, including treasures and valuable art objects, such as the famous temple of the god Serapis, Serapeum.
In 392, Theodosius promulgated a final edict for the definitive prohibition of sacrifices, burning incense, hanging garlands, libations, divinations, the practice of which was considered an offense to the emperor and sacrifices even though he himself had placed an obelisk in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which had belonged to the temple of Karnak during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmes III. In 393 the Olympic Games were held for the last time. But ancient monuments like the statue of Zeus sculpted by Phidias were transferred from Olympia to Constantinople. Although in theory religious beliefs were equally tolerated, Theodosius felt that his authority should extend to the church and the religious life of his subjects, the aim being to create a single church, the Nicene Church.
Despite his efforts, he failed. Religious disputes did not end, but escalated and spread. But it did carry a final victory over paganism. Paganism ceased to exist as an organized whole even though there were still individuals, families or isolated groups who silently nurtured the beloved past of their dying religion. The pagan school of Athens continued its existence and its students continued to study classical literature.
In addition to the religious question, Theodosius had to face the problem of the Goths. In 378, Emperor Valens himself was killed at the Battle of Adrianople. The road to the capital was wide open to the Goths. They crossed the Balkan Peninsula and reached the walls of Constantinople. Theodosius, aided by his own troops of Goths, managed to repel them and stop the raids inside the empire. He realised that he could not control the barbarians by force and decided to maintain peaceful relations with them. He tried to introduce elements of Romanian culture into their ranks and attract them to the Romanian army. In time, the Goths were trained in Roman tactics and methods of battle and became a formidable force ready to attack the empire. The native population displayed a strong anti-German sentiment. Goths enlisted in the Roman army to defend the empire from other Goths.
Theodosius died in 395 at Mediolanum and was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles. His sons, considered too young and weak, were proclaimed emperors of the empire: Arcadius became emperor of the East and Honorius became emperor of the West. Arianism continued to exist, producing new religious movements.Theodosius could not achieve what he had set out to do: a unitary church and peaceful relations with the Germanic peoples.
Arcadius took over when he was only 17, inexperienced and weak-willed, influenced by the eunuch Eutropius who arranged his marriage to Eudoxia, the daughter of a Frankish officer in the Roman army. He encountered the problem of the Visigoths, who had settled in the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula, led by Alaric, who set off with his population towards Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia, the capital being threatened. Later, the Goths turned their attention to Greece, crossing Thessaly, sacking Boeotia and Attica, Corinth, Argos and Sparta, but sparing Athens. Following Stilichon’s intervention from the west into Greece, Alaric was repulsed and headed north to Epirus. Arcadius was forced to give him the military title of Magister of the army of Illyricum. Alaric stopped threatening the Eastern Roman Empire and turned his attention only to Italy.
The Goths had a great influence in Roman-Rasaretian society, occupying high military and administrative posts such as General Got Gainas, and the Germanic party was very influential, in conflict with the camp of Eutropius and the camp of senators, ministers and clerics led by the perfect of the city, Aurelian. A document belonging to Synesius, a non-polathic philosopher from Cyrene who converted to Christianity and was elected bishop of Ptolemais, has been preserved and dedicated to the emperor, warning him of the problem of Germanic influence. “The ‘barbarians’ had integrated into society, working as slaves, being trained as soldiers and even gaining high public office and land, and the philosopher feared that they might stage a coup and take over. He suggested ousting the Goths and pushing them across the Danube.
The inevitable happened and the Goths of Phrygia revolted, but Gainas set out to quell the revolt. Suddenly he allied himself with the rebel leader Tribigild and together they planned to attack the imperial troops sent to suppress the rebellion. They sent the emperor a request to surrender Eutropius, who was eventually exiled, but then returned to the capital, tried and executed under pressure from the Goths. Gainas also asked the emperor to allow the Arian Goths to use one of the capital’s churches for services. The Bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (Chrysostom) protested. Gainas, although he had taken over the city, was unable to hold his ground and on his departure from the city, a riot broke out in which many Goths were killed. Arcadius sent Fravita, a pagan Goth, to defeat Gainas. Gainas tried to escape, taking refuge in Thrace, but was executed by the Huns and his head was sent as a gift to the emperor. Fravitta was given the position of consul. The Goth problem was solved.
But he was to encounter a new religious problem: John Chrysostom , a preacher from Antioch, appointed bishop of Constantinople. He was an idealist, a defender of strict moral principles, an opponent of excessive luxury and a defender of Nicene dogma. He made many enemies, including Eudoxia who lived in luxury, and the Arian Goths. The emperor himself was influenced by the bishop’s opponents. John left Asia Minor, but the bishop’s adoring population prompted the emperor to recall the bishop. John again criticized the empress’s vices. He was deposed and his followers persecuted. He was exiled in 404 to Cappadocia, then ordered exiled to the eastern shore of the Black Sea, but died on the journey in 407. In 408, Arcadius died, succeeded by Theodosius II the Younger, who was only seven years old. In 410, the Goths led by Alaric sacked Rome.
Theodosius II had the Persian king Yazdigird I as his guardian, who had been given the duty by his father’s will to protect him from court intrigues. Good relations between the two empires favoured the spread of Christianity in Persia. The Persian king even gave Christians permission to practice their public services and rebuild their churches.
In 410, the Synod of Seleucia was held, which laid the foundations of the Christian church in Persia and elected the Bishop of Ctesiphon as head of the church.But persecution resumed in the last years of the reign of King Yazdigird I. Theodosius II was not a brilliant politician, not interested in governmental matters. He led a solitary monastic life. He devoted much of his time to calligraphy, copying many old manuscripts. He had energetic and capable people around him who contributed to his iscaunation. His sister Pulcheria was the most influential. She arranged the marriage of Theodosius to Athenais (christened Evdochia), the daughter of an Athenian philosopher, a girl of literary talent who wrote on religious themes.
At the end of the 4th century, a new “heresy” arose which held that Christ was not both man and deity. An attempt was made to demonstrate the absolute independence of Christ’s human being. Soon a supporter of this “heresy”, Nestorius, a priest of Antioch, was elected to the patriarchal throne in Constantinople. He wanted to impose this teaching on the Church and thus began to persecute his opponents, causing a great scandal. Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Celestine I protested. Theodosius was prompted to convene a third synod at Ephesus in 431, in which the Nestorian doctrine was condemned. Nestorius was exiled to Egypt for life. But many followers remained in Syria and Mesopotamia, with schools founded at Edessa and Nisibis and spreading to Persia, Asia Minor and India. Later, the followers of Cyril of Alexandria confessed the superiority of the divine over the human nature in Jesus Christ, concluding that the human nature was completely absorbed into the divine. The heresy became known as ‘Monophysitism’, with the Alexandrian bishop Dioscor and Eutychius, the archimandrite of a monastery in Constantinople, as prominent followers. The Emperor joined Dioscor, but the new Patriarch of Constantinople and Pope Leo I the Great opposed it. A new synod was convened at Ephesus in 449. Dioscor forced its members to acknowledge the teaching of Eutychius and to combat the opponents of the new doctrine. The emperor recognised the decisions of the council, officially recognising it as the new ecumenical council, but peace was not restored to the church.
In 425, Theodosius founded the University of Constantinople. Until then, the city of Athens was the main centre of pagan education, and home to the philosophical school. The university had 31 professors teaching grammar, rhetoric, law and philosophy, of whom three rhetors and ten grammarians taught in Latin and five rhetors and ten grammarians taught in Greek. Although Latin was the official language of the empire, Greek was the most widely spoken in the empire. The new building contained large lecture halls because teachers were forbidden to give private lessons, as their salaries were permanently fixed from the imperial treasury. Theodosius also published a collection of imperial decrees in 438, called the Theodosian Codex, taken from the Gregorian and Hermogenian codices. Theodosius II issued an imperial constitution in Constantinople commissioning a nine-member commission to create two codices. The first was to contain the imperial constitutions issued from Emperor Constantine to himself (Theodosius). The second codex was to contain the texts of jurisprudence taken from the works of the most important Roman jurisconsults. In drafting the two codices, the commissioners (and one jurisconsult: Apelle) were not allowed to interpolate texts.
It was divided into 16 books, sub-divided into a number of titles, each dealing with a particular aspect of government on the administrative, military and religious levels, the decrees being arranged chronologically-leges novellae. It was also introduced in the West, the Lex Romana Visigothorum (Roman Visigothic Law) or Alaric’s Breviary being inspired by the codex.
Under the reign of Theodosius, the walls of Constantinople were enlarged because the city had outgrown the perimeter of Constantine the Great’s wall. Alaric’s sack of Rome was taken as a serious warning to Constantinople, threatened by Hunnic raids. The walls were built in two stages. In 413, when Theodosius was just a child, the praetorian prefect Antim built a wall with towers stretching from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. Another perfect of the praetorian, Constantine, after an earthquake, repaired the wall and built around it another wall with towers and protected by a deep moat filled with water. Constantinople had a triple line of fortifications, the two walls separated by a terrace and deep moat surrounding the outer wall. New walls were built along the coast under the administration of the perfect Cyrus.
Attila invaded the Eastern Roman Empire, devastating the Balkan Peninsula, and threatening Constantinople. The Roman Emperor Theodosius II negotiated with Attila for peace, agreeing to hand over 6,000 kilograms of gold as tribute and agreeing to pay 2,100 gold pfunds a year to keep the Huns from returning to Constantinople. Theodosius II died in 450 without leaving an heir.
His older sister, Pulcheria, married Marcian, a Thracian soldier by birth, and was proclaimed emperor through the support of the Alanian general, Aspar. The capital showed its displeasure with the family and the ‘barbarian’ influence in the army. The Huns, who had been a danger to the empire, moved early in Marcian’s reign from the Middle Danube to the western provinces of the empire, where the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains took place. After Attila’s death, the Hunnic threat disappeared. But the church situation was very complicated. Monophysites were dominant, and Marcian was a supporter of the first two ecumenical synods. In 451, he convened the fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon, with many delegates and representatives of the pope present. The synod condemned the ‘rogue synod’ of Ephesus and deposed Dioscor. A new religious formula was drawn up which rejected the Monophysite doctrine and conformed to the papal view. The Synod considered that Christ had both unmixed and unchanged, undivided and undivided natures. The teaching of the synod became the foundation of the theological teachings of the Orthodox Church. The Byzantine Empire removed its provinces where the majority of the population was Monophysite, Syria and Egypt. The Egyptian Church abandoned the use of Greek in worship and introduced the indigenous Egyptian-Coptic language. Religious riots broke out in Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, and were quelled by the authorities after much bloodshed. Canon 28 was issued, prompting an exchange of letters between the Byzantine Emperor and the Pope of Rome. It raises the question of the rank of the Patriarch of Constantinople in relation to the Pope of Rome. The canon conferred equal privileges on the presbyteral see of the new Rome with those of the old imperial Rome. The canon grants the archbishop of Constantinople the right to ordain bishops for the provinces of Pontus, Thrace and Asia.
Marcian reformed the empire’s finances and repopulated the provinces ravaged by the Huns. He repulsed attacks on Syria and Egypt in 452 and quelled border unrest with Armenia in 456.He broke his promises to the Western Roman Empire when the Vandal king Genseric sacked Rome in 455. He died in 457, probably of gangrene triggered during a long religious journey. Although his reign was relatively short, Marcian is considered one of the best early emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Theodosian dynasty had come to an end.
Leonid Dynasty (457 – 518)
Leon I also came to the throne through the efforts of the Goth-backed general Aspar in 457. During Leon’s time, the Balkans were desolated by Goths and Huns. Leon appointed Anthemius in 467 as Roman emperor in the west. He organised a sea expedition from North Africa against the Vandals, and despite financial expenditure and efforts, it proved a failure. The populace accused Aspar of treason. Later, he obtained the title of Caesar from Leo for his son. Leon, with the support of a number of Isaurian warriors killed Aspar and part of his family. Leon was given the nickname “the butcher” for committing these crimes, taking a decisive step towards nationalizing the army and weakening the dominance of Germanic troops. The alliance with Isauria was made through the marriage of Leon’s daughter to Tarascodissa, the ruler of the Isaurians, who would become emperor under the name of Zeno.Also during Leon’s time, the heir to the Ostrogothic throne, Theodoric, was brought to Constantinople, who would be freed under Zeno. On the death of Leo I, his nephew, Leo II, was appointed emperor. He died in unknown circumstances after 10 months of rule, probably poisoned by his mother, who wanted her husband to be emperor.
Zeno became the sole emperor in 474. But his accession to the throne marks the removal of the earlier Gothic influence by the Isaurians. The Isaurians occupied the highest positions. Aware that people in his entourage were plotting against him, he put down the revolt that had broken out in the mountains of Isauria and demolished the fortifications. In 475 he was briefly banished from Constantinople, Basiliskos ruled briefly until 476, when Zeno returned to power. Meanwhile, in the west, the Western Roman Empire had come to an end, in 476, Odoacer, the head of the Ostrogoths, overthrew the last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, and sent senators as ambassadors to Zeno to secure his rule and to ask him for the title of patrician to receive the administration of Italy. He was legally appointed ruler of Italy. Odoacer was beginning to adopt a visible attitude of independence, and Zeno appealed to the Ostrogoths led by Theodoric who were in the Balkan Peninsula. Theodoric, at the emperor’s request, assassinated Odoacer and settled in Ravenna, establishing the Ostrogothic Kingdom.
The monophysites in Egypt, Syria, Palestine and Asia Minor were still a religious problem for Zeno. The Patriarchs of Constantinople and Alexandria tried to find ways to resolve the problem peacefully and reconcile the camps. Zeno accepted the proposal and in 482, he issued an act of union-“Henoticon”-addressing the churches under the Patriarch of Alexandria. The Henoticon recognised the theological principles ratified at the first two synods as well as those ratified at the third, but did not recognise the Council of Chalcedon. The Henoticon seemed to improve the situation in Alexandria, but gradually the Orthodox and Monophysites became increasingly dissatisfied. The clergy called for reconciliation and an act of union, but the Orthodox and Monophysites were unwilling to compromise. The Orthodox considered themselves ‘akoimetoi’ (unadorned) because they held services in monasteries day and night without interruption. The extreme monophysites were called “akephaloi” (headless) because they did not recognise the authority of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, which had accepted the Henoticon. The Pope himself protested against the Henoticon after studying it and even excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, at the Synod meeting in Rome. Acacius stopped mentioning the pope in his prayers in retaliation. The rift between the Western and Eastern churches had begun.
After Zeno’s death in 491, his widow, Ariadne, married the elder Anastasius I of Dyrrachium, who held the court office of “silentiarius”. He was crowned after promising not to introduce any church innovations. He ended his dealings with the Isaurians, removing them from office, confiscating their property and expelling them from the capital. A six-year war ensued in which the Isaurians were defeated and displaced to Thrace. He then waged war against Persia to no avail. With his attention distracted from the Danubian frontier, the Bulgars, Geats and Scythians undertook raiding raids against the northern frontier and into the Balkan Peninsula. Anastasius was determined to build the wall 65 km west of Constantinople, stretching from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. But because of hastily built walls and earthquakes, the wall could not serve as a real barrier. Meanwhile, Theodoric the Great had been recognised by the emperor as king of Italy, and Clovis I had founded the Frankish kingdom in Gaul and received the title of consul. Anastasius had initially favoured the Monophysites, but when he ordered the Trisagion to be sung as an addition to a church song, riots broke out in the capital and a rebellion broke out in Thrace, composed of armies of Bulgarians, Huns and Slavs, led by Vitalian who had prepared the fleet for the siege of Constantinople to save the Orthodox church. But the rebellion was put down after a long and hard fight.
On the financial front, he abolished the “chrysargyron”, a tax paid in gold and silver to craftsmen and professions in the empire for the use of tools and animals, from which the poor suffered when the tax was collected every five years, applied arbitrarily and irregularly. The abolition of the tax welcomed with festivity and joy by the population was compensated by the initiation of another-chrysoteleia, the tax in gold for the imperial treasury to support the army. The system whereby the corporations of the towns were responsible for collecting the taxes of the municipality was abolished, giving the task to the “vindices” officials. It decreed that a free tenant peasant who had owned land for 30 years became a “colonus”, i.e. land-bound, but did not lose his personal freedom or his right to property. The bronze coin ‘follis’ was introduced because copper coins were becoming scarce, and this pleased the poor. Coins were minted by three factories in Constantinople, Nicomedia and Antioch. Anastasius decreed a ban on circus fights between humans and animals. He built the Long Wall, aqueducts and renovated the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The historian Procopius estimated that the state had reserves of 320,000 pounds of gold ($65-70 million).
In 518, the old emperor with one blue eye and one brown eye had died. The Leonid dynasty was over.
The great Germanic migrations
The Visigoths became foederati of the empire as they defended the Danube line and provided auxiliary troops, but after Christianisation on the Arian rite and dissatisfaction with the burdensome taxation, they revolted and defeated the Romans at Adrianople in 378. Theodosius allows them to settle in Thrace, exempt from taxes, and imposes a new foedus. Gainas, the Got commander, revolts in Arcadius’ time, but is stopped by the population. In 410, Alaric plunders Rome.
From 430, Emperor Theodosius II paid annual subsidies to the Huns. Following negotiations, Attila is persuaded not to attack Byzantine territory. Marcian refuses to pay him any more subsidies from 450, but Attila, captivated by the West, loses at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451.
After Attila’s death, the Ostrogoths take refuge in the empire, Theodoric being trained and educated on the Roman model, and leave for Italy to oust Odoacer.
Slavs and Bulgarians
The Slavs began their incursions into the Danube area in the 6th century. In 559, they attack in three directions: the Adriatic Sea, the southern Balkan peninsula and Thrace-Constantinople. The Slavs are repulsed by Belizaria under Justinian.
From 558 the invaders come to the northern Black Sea, demanding Dobrogea and the mouth of the Danube, but being refused by Justinian, they settle in Pannonia, driving the Longobards away. They attacked and conquered Smirmium and besieged Thessalonica. Mauricius leads campaigns in the Balkans against the Slavs and Avars, but is assassinated by Phocas.
In 626, Constantinople was besieged by Slavs and Avars while Heraclius was at war with the Persians. The Slavs settled in the Balkan territories, organising themselves into Slavs, and were assimilated after adopting Roman fashions and customs.
The Bulgarians come, led by Asparuch, who penetrate south of the Danube and establish their own state south of the Danube. The Bulgarian state was recognised in 681-682 by Emperor Constantine IV.
In the first stage, the migrants only settled in imperial territories. Their incursions disrupted the machinery of daily life in the cities. Economic life and the urban world in the Balkans went into decline. The Byzantine city loses its economic function and becomes an administrative-political centre. The term poleis disappears and the term castrum appears. Insecurity has increased on the major trade routes, and trade declines. The Byzantine army found it increasingly difficult to cope with attacks. Anastasius built a wall in the Balkan Peninsula, linking the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, stretching 70 km.
The consequences of the second stage were more severe. The Byzantine Empire lost control of the territory between the Balkan Mountains and the Danube and the Bulgarian state was established. It lost control of the Balkan Peninsula, which was invaded by the Slavs, who were assimilated through a programme initiated by the Byzantine authorities. The economic consequences were more serious as the attacks paralysed Byzantine economic activity. Many towns were occupied by the Slavs or destroyed. Trade routes were blocked. Agriculture declined, followed by a period of famine. The administrative system suffered and was modified, as the entire Byzantine administration in the Balkans was dislocated. The diocese of Thrace and the prefecture of Illiricum disappeared. The work Miracles of St. Dimitrios by John of Thessalonica records the difficult situation the city experienced during the Slavic-Avic attacks and the changes that took place in the Balkans after the arrival of the Slavs.
Slavic tribes settled from the Danube to the Peloponnese, forming small political formations called Slavonic tribes, led by archons. The Romanised population, over time, was mostly assimilated by the newcomers, but remnants of the unassimilated Roman population clustered in the highlands of the peninsula – the Pind Mountains, Macedonia, Thessaly, present-day Serbia, the Balkan Mountains, forming ‘islands’ of Latinity. The Greek population continued to coexist with the migrants settled in the Balkans, constituting the source of the Greekization policy promoted by the Byzantine emperors in the 8th-9th centuries. Latin-speaking prisoners were displaced from south to north of the Danube, reinforcing the north-Danube Romanity. Episcopates remained intact in the Balkan Peninsula. The Slavs were Christianised by monasteries and episcopates, and in the 9th century the Bulgarians were slowly Christianised.
Justinian Dynasty (518-602)
Justinian’s predecessor, Justin I, broke with the religious policy of his predecessors and sided with the followers of the Council of Chalcedon. He initiated a series of persecutions against the Monophysites. He maintained peaceful relations with Rome and pursued an orthodox religious policy.
His nephew Justinian (527-565) was the central figure of this period, along with his wife Theodora. In his ‘Secret History’, Procopius paints an exaggerated picture of Theodora in particular, recounting her youth lived in debauchery as the daughter of a bear-keeper in the amphitheatre of Constantinople who was a prostitute. But she was beautiful, elegant, intelligent and funny. Historian Diehl saws that “she entertained, delighted and scandalised Constantinople”. Procopius claims that people shunned her in the streets for fear they might “soil” their clothes with her touch.
Theodora lived in Africa for a few years, and when she returned to Constantinople, she was completely changed. She led a solitary life, devoting her time to weaving wool and church life. Justinian, when he saw her, was deeply impressed by her beauty. He took her to court, elevated her to the rank of patrician, and shortly afterwards married her, Theodora being crowned Byzantine empress. She remained a devoted wife and was active in political life, exerting great influence on Justinian’s actions. Cold-blooded and with extraordinary energy, she saved the empire from convulsions. She openly favoured the Monophysites, while her husband, though an adherent of Orthodoxy, made concessions to Monophysitism. Theodora understood the importance of the Monophysite eastern provinces as vital commercial and economic areas of the empire and sought peaceful relations with them. .
Justinian waged offensive wars against the Germanic kingdoms of Western Europe, Persia in the East and the Slavs in the North, which were crowned with resounding successes. The Vandals, Ostrogoths and Visigoths were forced to submit to the Byzantine emperor. The Mediterranean was turned into a Byzantine lake. Justinian called himself “CAESAR FLAVIUS IUSTINIAN ALAMANNICUS GOTHICUS FRANCICUS GERMANICUS ANTICUS ALANICUS VANDALICUS AFRICANUS. Justinian ascended the throne with the ideals of a Roman and Christian emperor, considering himself a descendant of the Caesars and with the sacred duty of restoring the unity of the empire.
But the wars economically exhausted the Byzantine state. The army was relocated to the West, with the East and North remaining open to attack by Persians, Slavs and Huns. The empire’s main enemies were the Germans. As Christian emperor, he could not allow the Arian Germanics to persecute the Orthodox population. Justinian had historical rights over western Europe. The Germanic kings were only vassals of the Byzantine emperor, who had delegated them to rule in the West. The Frankish king, Clovis, was given the rank of consul by Anastasius, and the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric, was granted kingship. Justinian believes that the Goths took over Italy by force. He considered himself the natural overlord of all rulers within the borders of the Roman Empire, and had the mission, as Christian emperor, to spread Christianity, the only true faith, among unbelievers, pagans and heretics.
In Africa, he was seen by the natives as a protector who would lead them out of the grip of the barbaric Aryan persecutors. Orthodox bishops, refugees and exiles from Africa, arrived in Constantinople to implore the emperor to launch a campaign against the Vandals. In Italy, the native population maintained a state of hidden discontent, waiting for support from Constantinople to liberate their country from the Ostrogoths and restore the Orthodox faith.
Even the Germanic kings supported the emperor’s ambitious plans, continuing to express their deep and due respect for the Byzantine emperor, showing their servility and striving by all means to obtain high Roman ranks, even printing the emperor’s image on their coins and considering him as the divine representative on earth. Following the Gelimer-organised coup in North Africa and the removal of Hilderic, the Vandal king who supported the Byzantines, Justinian declared war on the Vandals.
The campaigns against the Vandals were difficult, involving the relocation of the army by sea to North Africa. The Byzantines fought fierce battles at sea with the Vandals, who had a powerful fleet. In Persia, the ruling house was changed, and Justinian made peace with the new Persian king in 532, on condition that the Byzantine Empire pay annual tribute to Persia. The treaty gave the emperor the opportunity and freedom to act in other areas. He appointed Belisarius, a trusted general, to head the army and fleet, and he succeeded in suppressing the Nika uprising.
The Vandals could no longer resist, being unaccustomed to the warm southern climate and influenced by Roman civilisation, losing their previous energy and strength. After worsening their relations with the native population due to the Aryan faith, Berber tribal revolts broke out, helping to weaken the Vandals’ forces. Justinian escalated the internal conflicts between the Vandals, knowing that the Germanic kingdoms would not unite to oppose him. The Ostrogoths were on bad terms with the Vandals, the Franks were fighting the Ostrogoths, and the Visigoths in Spain were far from the focus of the war. Justinian understood that he could defeat any enemy separately and gradually. After the battles of 533-548, in a series of brilliant victories, Belizarius conquered the entire Vandal kingdom, recovering North Africa. The emperor summoned Belizaria back to Constantinople with a large part of his army. But soon, rebellions led by the Moors broke out. Belizarius’ successor in Africa, Solomon, was overthrown. Imperial power was restored when John Trollite, a diplomat and general, won a decisive victory. With the exception of the fortress of Septum, near the Pillars of Hercules, the western region of North Africa, stretching to the Atlantic Ocean, remained unconquered. But northern Africa, Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands became part of the empire.
From 535 to 554 Justinian waged wars against the Ostrogoths in Italy. He conquered Dalmatia, and Belisarius took Sicily, and eventually the cities of Naples and Rome on the Italian peninsula. In 540, the Ostrogothic capital, Ravenna, opened its gates to Belizarius who captured the Ostrogothic king and took him in chains to Constantinople. Soon, however, Totila, the last king of the Ostrogoths, led a strong resistance. Belizarius was urgently summoned from Persia to confront him. The territories of Italy and the islands were retaken by the Ostrogoths. Rome had been ruined. Finally, Narses, another Byzantine general, was called in and put an end to the Goth resistance. In 552, Totila was defeated at Busta Gallorum in Umbria. Totila escaped by fleeing, but was killed. Narses sent Totila’s blood-stained clothes and his helmet adorned with precious stones to Constantinople at the emperor’s feet as indisputable proof that he was no more. In 554, after 20 years of devastating warfare, Italy, Dalmatia and Sicily were re-elected to the empire. In the Pragmatio Sanctio, the great landed aristocrats of Italy and the church were returned their estates taken from the Ostrogoths and their old privileges. But the wars left their mark for a long time, hindering for a long time the development of crafts and trade in Italy due to the lack of labour and uncultivated land. Rome had become an average, ruined city without any political importance, but it had become the papal residence.
Justinian turned his attention to the Visigoths of the Iberian Peninsula. He took advantage of the civil war between the pretenders to the Visigoth throne and sent an expedition racing 540 to Spain. Cities and sea forts were successfully captured, and the south-eastern part of the peninsula was conquered, with the cities of Carthage, Malaga and Cordoba. Finally, it occupied a stretch stretching from Cape St Vincent in the west to beyond Carthage in the east. Churches and monuments typical of Byzantine art and architecture were built.
After long and bitter wars, Dalmatia, Italy, Algeria, Tunisia, south-eastern Spain, the islands of Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily and the Balearic Islands were included in the empire, the Mediterranean becoming a ‘Roman lake’ once again. The empire’s borders stretched from the Pillars of Hercules
Justinian waged defensive wars against Persia, the Slavs and the Huns. Persia and the Byzantine Empire had been engaged in bloody wars for centuries on the eastern border. “The ‘eternal peace’ was about to be broken. The Persian king, Chosroes I(en), took advantage of a request for help from the Ostrogoths, opening hostilities with the Byzantines. A bloody war ensued, with the Persians winning. Belisarius was summoned from Italy, but was unable to stop the advance of Chosroes, who rushed into Syria, sacking and destroying Antioch. The Persians reached the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and tried to make their way to the Black Sea, but were repulsed by strong resistance from the Byzantines in the province of Lazica-Lazistan, which was dependent on the Byzantine Empire.
Justinian bought a five-year truce and was obliged to pay a large sum of money. In 562, the Byzantine Empire and Persia reached an agreement that established a 50-year peace. The emperor undertook to pay Persia a large sum of money annually, while the Persian king guaranteed religious tolerance of Christians, provided they refrained from proselytising. Byzantine and Persian merchants had to trade only in the designated places where customs posts were located. The Persians had to leave Lazica and cede it to the Byzantines, the province remaining under full Byzantine rule.
In the Balkan Peninsula, the northern populations, the Bulgarians and the Slavs, ravaged the Balkan provinces from the time of Anastasius. Procopius reports that every year the Slavs and Bulgarians crossed the Danube and penetrated deep into Byzantine territories. They reached as far as the outskirts of the capital and penetrated as far as Hellespont, crossed Greece to the Isthmus of Corinth and the Adriatic coast in the west. The Slavs intended to head for the Aegean coast. They threatened Thessalonica. Imperial troops resisted and forced the Slavs to retreat across the Danube, although not all of them did. The Germanic Greeks and Cutrigurians invaded the Balkan Peninsula from the north. In 558-559, the Cutrigurians, led by Zabergan, entered Thrace, ravaging Greece, invading Thracian Chersones and heading for Constantinople. Panic set in, and the churches of the devastated provinces sent their treasures to the capital or to the Asian shores of the Bosphorus. Justinian appealed to Belizarius to save Constantinople. The Cossacks were defeated, but the Byzantines suffered a severe economic setback from the invasion.
Justinian built forts and long walls under the pressure of the hunica. In Egypt, Justinian faced African populations such as the Blemish and Nobazites. Thanks to Theodora’s energy and skill, the king of the nobazites, Silko, converted to Monophysite Christianity and joined with a Byzantine general to force the Blemids to embrace the faith.
The campaigns have involved enormous expenditure. Procopius writes that Justinian spent all 320,000 pounds of gold inherited from Anastasius, although the historian John of Ephesus denies this. In reality, the number was exaggerated, and Justinian also benefited from the money received from the high taxes paid by the exhausted population. In order to reduce expenses by economising on the upkeep of the army, the number of soldiers was reduced, so in the future the provinces gained by Justinian were lost. His foreign policy caused a serious and severe economic crisis.
In his legislative work, he used the older codes: the Codex Gregorianus, Codex Hermogenianus and Codex Theodosianus. In February 528, the emperor assembled a commission of ten experts, including Tribonian, the emperor’s right-hand man, and Theophilus, professor of law. The commission’s task was to revise the three old codices, eliminating all that was obsolete, and to systematise the constitutions that appeared after the Codex of Theodosius, bringing them together in a single collection: the Codex Justinianus, published in 529. It was divided into ten books, containing constitutions from the reign of Emperor Hadrian to that of Justinian. It became the only binding codex of laws, overruling previous ones. In 530, Tribonian was commissioned to assemble a committee to review the works of the classical jurists, to take extracts from them, to eliminate the shaky elements, the contradictions and finally to order all the material. The commission had to study 2000 books with 3 million lines. The work was completed in three years and the new codex was published in 533, divided into 50 books and entitled “Digests” or “Pandects”. Also in 533, a civic manual for young people was published, divided into four books and entitled “Institutes”. New decrees were published and many issues were revised. A further revision was undertaken in 534, and in November of the same year, a second edition of the revised and added codex, divided into 12 books, was published under the title “Codex repetitae praelectionis. The decrees published after 534 were called ‘Novellae leges’. The Codex, Digests and Institutions were written in Latin, but the Novellae were written in Greek. In the Middle Ages, the Codex, Digests, Institutions and Novellae formed a single corpus of laws, called the ‘Corpus juris civilis’. Legal education was reformed and new curricula were introduced. Courses lasted five years, and the main subject of study in the first year was the Institutions, in the second to fourth years the Digests were studied, and in the fifth year the Codex was studied. Justinian’s Codex preserved Roman Law, which gave the basic legal principles governing modern society. Three schools of law were developed in Constantinople, Rome and Beirut (following an earthquake and flood wave, the school was transferred to Sidon).
At the time of his accession to the throne, the internal life of the empire was in a state of disorder and anarchy, poverty was widespread in the provinces and taxes were not paid regularly. Circus factions, large landowners, Anastasius’ disenfranchised relatives and dissident religious groups added to the disaster. Justinian understood that internal reforms were needed. He witnessed a terrible uprising in the capital. At the Hippodrome in Constantinople, the meeting place of the capital’s inhabitants, beloved for the races, the emperor, in the imperial box, showed himself to the cheers of the crowd. The visitors wore clothes in four colours: green, blue, white and red. The parties stood around the visiti of each colour. They had their own houses to finance coaches, horses and carriages, the groups being in rivalry and dispute with each other. The number of spectators reached 50 000. The racecourse parties, called “demes” , became political parties: Reds, Blues, Greens and Whites, whose colours corresponded to the four elements of nature. The racecourse was the only place where public opinion could be freely expressed and impose its will on the state. The emperor was obliged to appear at the Hippodrome to explain his actions to the people. The most influential party were the Bishops (Venetoi), supporters of orthodoxy and followers of the Council of Chalcedon. The Greens (Prasinoi) were supporters of Monophysitism, who had revolted under Emperor Anastasius. The Blue, as a party, represented the upper class, while the Greens represented the lower class.
In 532 Justinian had dynastic, religious and public opponents in the capital. The Greens wanted Justinian removed. Public dislike arose from a general aversion to high officials, such as Tribonian or John of Cappadocia, who generated public discontent by breaking the law. Monophysites also suffered in the early years of Justinian’s reign. The population of the capital revolted, and the Blue and Greens, despite religious disagreements, united against the government. The emperor held talks with the people in the hypodrome, but without success. The revolt spread rapidly, with many buildings and artistic monuments being destroyed and burned, such as the Basilica of St Sophia. The rioters shouted “Nika”-victory. Justinian promised to dismiss Tribonian and John of Cappadocia. But his personal appeal came to nothing. Anastasius’ grandson proclaimed himself emperor.
Justinian took refuge in the palace with his advisors and thought of fleeing. But Theodora intervened and advised the emperor and so, regaining his strength, entrusted Belizarius with the task of suppressing the rebellion, which had lasted for six days. Belizarie led the rebels into the hippodrome, imprisoned them, and 30-40,000 people were killed. The revolt was suppressed and Anastasius’ grandsons were executed.
Justinian faced land problems, fighting with the big landowners. According to Procopius, the state confronted the large landowners, who administered their estates without the interest of central power. According to one novel, Justinian lamented the situation of the state-owned landed estates, how the administrators of the landowners’ lands, surrounded by their own bodyguards, plundered and that the state’s wealth was entirely under private ownership. Cappadocian magnates had absolute authority over their provinces, maintaining troops at state expense. Apion, an Egyptian aristocrat, owned vast landed estates in Egypt, had his own secretaries, stewards, workers, councillors, tax collectors, treasurers, his own police, and his own postal service, even his own prisons and personal troops. Large estates were also concentrated in the hands of churches and monasteries. Justinian fought ruthless battles, confiscating property. He failed to destroy the landed aristocracy entirely. He tried to introduce new reforms to regulate the situation, which had been degraded by the negative effects on security, town revenues and agriculture. He believed that a centralised administration with competent and obedient officials was the only way to improve the situation. He issued ninele to governors to protect citizens from persecution, to refuse bribes, to be just in sentences and decisions, to punish lawlessness, to protect the innocent. Order that taxes must be paid in full and on time. Officials had to swear an oath to perform their duties honestly and be responsible for the full payment of taxes in the provinces, under the supervision of bishops.
He united small provinces in the East into larger units, and brought the provinces of Asia Minor together in the hands of a single governor, called a praetor. He paid special attention to Egypt distributing grain and invested a civil official, the Augustalis, with military authority over the two Egyptian provinces. He maintained the old separation of civil and military power in the prefectures of North Africa and Italy. But rioting, extortion and ruin continued. When he urgently needed money, he himself used the means forbidden in his decrees. He sold offices for large sums, introduced new taxes, resorted to devaluing the currency and minted depreciated coins, and the attitude of the population became threatening, so he had to revoke the measures immediately. Towns became poor and desolate as residents fled to escape tax officials and land production was low. The empire was in ruins, so Justinian had to reduce the army, which led to riots breaking out and leaving the frontiers uncovered, giving free access to barbarians undertaking pillaging campaigns. The forts were not maintained. Justinian had to bribe them. In 542, after periods of famine, earthquakes, burdensome taxation and barbarian raids, the bubonic plague broke out near the city of Pelusium. From Egypt, the plague spread to Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Persia, and spread to Italy and Sicily. In Constantinople, it claimed victims for four months. Towns and villages were abandoned, agriculture stopped, and famine, fear and the flight of many plunged the empire into chaos. The emperor himself was infected, but survived. Justinian’s attempts to reform the administration proved a total failure, and financially, the empire was on the brink of collapse thanks to military campaigns that required colossal cholera.
Rare and valuable trade items arrived from distant countries, especially India and China. Constantinople, being strategically located, proved to be the intermediary between the West and the East. The intermediary between Byzantium and the Far East was the Sasanian Empire, which made huge profits from trade. There were two main routes: the land route which started from the western borders of China, divided at that time into the states of Wei and Liang, through Sogdiana to the Persian border, where goods were transferred by Chinese merchants to the Persians, who transported them further to the customs posts on the Byzantine frontier. The sea route was as follows: the Chinese carried their goods on their ships to the island of Ceylon, south of the Hindustan peninsula, and from there the Chinese goods were loaded onto Persian ships, which carried them across the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates and on to the Byzantine customs point. Because of the wars with Persia, trade with the East was interrupted and huge damage followed. Silk, the manufacture of which was unknown, was traded, and was in demand in the Byzantine markets, sold for large sums, and perfumes, cotton, spices and precious stones were transported from India. Justinian even tried to establish a trade route to China and India outside the area of Persian influence. During Justinian’s time, Cosmas Indicopleustes of Alexandria wrote the Christian Topography or Cosmography, a remarkable work containing information on the geography of the Red Sea basin and the Indian Ocean, as well as trade relations with India and China. It showed that the Earth was shaped like a rectangular box. The author relied on information from eyewitnesses. He talks about Indian and African animals, gives information about the island of Taprobane-Celyon.Byzantine coins from the time of Constantine the Great were found in India, having been brought by Persian and Abyssinian intermediaries.The text was adorned with miniatures.
In the wake of his disagreements with the Persians, and given that the number of Byzantine ships in the Red Sea was insufficient to maintain a regular trade, Justinian even established relations with the Abyssinian Christians in Aksum, encouraging them to buy silk from India and resell it to the Byzantines. He was unable to open a direct trade with the Chinese, but somehow merchants from China fooled the vigilance of Chinese inspectors and introduced some silkworm eggs from Serinda into Byzantine territory, forming the basis of a new industry for the Byzantines. Soon, extensive silkworm plantations and many silk-weaving factories were built, the most important of which were constructed at Constantinople, Beirut, Tyre, Antioch, Thebes, Alexandria. The silk industry became a state monopoly and brought the state a great deal of revenue, but not enough to improve the empire’s precarious financial situation. Byzantine silk goods also found their way to Western Europe, adorning the palaces of Apuan kings and wealthy merchants.
Justinian built protected forts and limes, “castella” fortifications on the borders, in North Africa, on the banks of the Danube and Euphrates, in the Armenian Mountains and in the Crimean peninsula, rebuilding and enlarging a defence system. As Procopius wrote in “On Buildings”, Justinian “saved the empire”.
Justinian had a duty to restore the Roman Empire, following the principle of ‘one state, one law, one church’. Aware that the Church could serve as a powerful weapon in the hands of the state, he used every means to subordinate it. It kept under its control the internal administration and the future of the clergy, the high-ranking clergy and established dogma. The religious orientation of the emperor was to be taken over by his subjects. He had the right to order the life of the clergy, to appoint individuals to ecclesiastical posts according to his judgement, he was present as mediator and judge in the actions of the clergy, he had a favourable attitude towards the church, protecting the priesthood and building new churches and monasteries, to which he granted privileges. He worked hard to establish unity of faith among his subjects. Participated in doctrinal disputes and made final decisions in controversial matters of doctrine. In his conception, the emperor was to be both Caesar and pope, uniting secular and spiritual power. Justinian did all this to secure his political power, strengthen his government and find religious support for his throne. He had a good religious education, knew the scriptures, participated in theological discussions and even wrote religious hymns. He favoured the Roman Church and renewed relations with it as a defender of the Council of Chalcedon, whose decisions were rejected by the Eastern provinces. He came into conflict with Jews, pagans and heretics, including Manicheans, Nestorians, Monophysites and Arians. In order to eradicate paganism, in 529 Justinian permanently closed the Philosophical School of Athens, which had been in decline since the opening of the University of Constantinople under Theodosius II. Athens had lost its status and importance as a cultural city. But Greek philosophers continued to live in peace and security. Jews rebelled against persecution and were brutally repressed. Synagogues were destroyed, and even the reading of the Old Testament in Hebrew was forbidden, replaced by the Greek version-Septuagint.
Justinian had bigger problems with the Monophysites, and his wife, Empress Theodora even supported them. Justinian sought to establish peaceful relations with them. He invited Monophysites to the capital for a religious conference for reconciliation purposes, asking them to discuss all controversial issues with their opponents with all leniency. He hosted 500 Monophysites in one of the capital’s palaces. The seat of Patriarch of Constantinople was even offered to the Bishop of Trapezunt, Antim, who had a conciliatory policy towards the Monophysites. However, Pope Agapet and the Achimites, the extreme Orthodox, arrived in Constantinople, and protested the religious flexibility of Antim and Justinian. So Justinian had to change policy and deposed Antim. The emperor had to listen to the pope as war with the Ostrogoths began in Italy, and Justinian needed his support. He disputed the issue of the Three Chapters, concerning three writers: Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus and Ibas of Edessa. Under pressure from the Monophysites, Justinian issued an edict anathematising the works of the three writers and threatening those who dared to defend or endorse them, which was signed by all the patriarchs and bishops. In order to bring the Roman Church to his side, Justinian summoned Pope Vigilius to Constantinople. He opposed the edict and excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, Mina. He succumbed to Justinian and Theodoret’s influence in 548 and signed the condemnation of the Three Chapters-Judicatum. Meanwhile, Empress Theodora died of cancer that year. The African bishops convened a synod, the Roman church not accepting Vigilius’ concession, and he had to retract the Judicatum. Justinian resorted to convening the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in Constantinople in 553, in which he was faced with clarifying issues related to the decisions of Synods III and IV, concerning Nestorianism and the Monophysite faith. The synod condemned and anathematized the three writers. Justinian carried out a policy of persecution and exile of bishops who disagreed with the Judicatum’s condemnation. Pope Vigilius himself was exiled to one of the islands in the Sea of Marmara, but was able to return to Rome, dying en route in Syracuse. The Synod was not recognised by Pope Gregory I until the end of the 6th century.
In the last years of his life, Justinian favoured the Monophysites. A unitary church could not be maintained. After the first two churches built by Constantine and Theodosius II were burned down, Justinian built the Cathedral of St Sophia in Constantinople, which lasted from 532-537.
He died in 565 without leaving an heir. The “Assumption of the Orthodox Emperor Justinian and the commemoration of the Empress Theodora” is celebrated on 14 November in the Orthodox calendar.
What the empire lost in territorial extent it gained in uniformity. Heraclius further Hellenized the empire by adopting Greek as the official language (Latin was still used for a while in ceremonial as a tradition). Many historians have (but this only after the 15th century) considered the 7th century change during Heraclius’ reign as the breaking point with Byzantium’s Roman past, and are accustomed to call the empire “Byzantine” instead of “Eastern Roman” for historical events after this date. The empire was also clearly religiously different from the former imperial territories of western Europe, although the southern Byzantine provinces practiced Monophysite Christianity, unlike the orthodox northern ones. The Arab conquest of the southern provinces made orthodoxy stronger in the rest of the Byzantine possessions.
Constans II the Barbarian (641 – 668) divided the empire into a system of military provinces called themae to deal with constant attacks as urban life declined and Constantinople’s population began to grow, making the capital the largest city in the Christian world. Arab attempts to conquer Constantinople failed, mainly due to Byzantine naval superiority, but also due to the monopoly on the mysterious Greek firearm, solid defensive walls and the skill of emperors such as Leo III the Isaurian (717 – 741) and the Isaurians (717 – 802). After the repulsion of Arab attacks, the empire began to recover.
Despite the fact that the empire was described as shaky by historian Edward Gibbon in the 18th century, the Byzantine Empire might more accurately be characterized as a military superpower in the early Middle Ages, due to its heavy cavalry (cataphract), its use of the free peasant class as a recruiting base for cavalry, its formidable system of defense in depth (themelor system), its use of subsidies to pit enemies against each other, the skill of intelligence gathering, the development of a system of logistical bases supplied by mule convoys, its navy (often underfunded), as well as rational military doctrines emphasising covert action, surprise, envelopment manoeuvres and the rapid movement of numerically superior forces at the time and place chosen by Byzantine commanders
After the siege of 717, in which the Arabs suffered colossal losses, the Abbasid Caliphate never again posed a serious threat to the interior. It took the rise of another civilisation, the Seljuk Turks, to drive the imperial forces out of eastern and central Anatolia for good.
The 8th century was dominated by the iconoclastic controversy. Icons were banned by Emperor Leo III the Isaurian, provoking iconophile revolts.
Heraclian Dynasty (610-711)
The Byzantine Empire was ruled by the Hellenized Armenian emperors of the Heraclian dynasty between 610 and 711. The Heraclians ruled during a period of catastrophic events that were a turning point in the history of the Empire.
At the beginning of the dynasty, the Empire was still recognised as the Eastern Roman Empire, dominated the Mediterranean Sea and possessed a thriving urban civilisation. This world was destroyed by successive invasions, leading to territorial losses, financial collapse and epidemics that depopulated cities, while religious controversy and rebellions further weakened the Empire.
By the end of the dynasty, Byzantium, a military agrarian society, was engaged in a long struggle with the Muslims. The empire was reduced to core territories that were Greek and Orthodox, allowing it a period of stability.
The Heraclian Dynasty was named after the general Heraclius the Younger, who, in 610, left Carthage, overthrew the usurper Phocas, and was crowned emperor. At that time, the Empire was engaged in a war with the Persian Empire of the Sasanians, who in the following decade conquered the eastern provinces of the Empire.
After a long and exhausting struggle, Heraclius managed to defeat the Persians and re-established the Empire, only to lose these provinces again shortly after they fell to the Muslims. His successors fought to repel Arab expansion. The Levant and North Africa were lost, while in 674-678, a large Arab army besieged Constantinople.
However, the state survived and established the themelor system, which allowed the empire to prosper in Asia Minor. In the era of Justinian II and Tiberius II, the imperial frontier in the east was stabilised, although incursions from both sides continued.
The 7th century saw the first conflicts with the Bulgarians and the creation of a Bulgarian state in the formerly Byzantine lands south of the Danube.
Isaurian Dynasty (717- 802)
The Byzantine Empire was ruled by the Syrian-born Isaurian dynasty from 717 to 802. The Emperors were successful in defending and consolidating the Empire against the Caliphate after the onslaught of the early Muslim conquests, but were less successful in Europe, where they suffered setbacks against the Bulgars and had to relinquish the Exarchate of Ravenna, losing influence over Italy, and the papacy came under the rule of the Franks .
The Isaurian dynasty is mainly associated with Byzantine iconoclasm, an attempt to restore divine favor by purifying the Christian faith.
Until the end of the Isaurian dynasty in 802, the Byzantines continued to fight the Arabs and Bulgars. At the same time, the Byzantines saw their prestige threatened when Pope Leo III crowned Charles as Imperator Romanorum (‘Emperor of the Romans’).
The Dynasty of Nicefor
Following the deposition of the Byzantine empress, Irina of Athens, the throne of the Byzantine Empire came under the control of the Nikephorian dynasty, named after its founder, Nichifor I. The Empire was in a weaker and more precarious position.
During this era, Byzantium was almost in a continuous war on two frontiers that drained it of its resources. Nichifor (802-811) died in the campaign against the Bulgarians to the north. Moreover, Byzantium’s influence continued to wane in the west with the coronation of Charles the Great (800-814) as Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 800.
In 813 Leo the Fifth Armenian (813-820 AD) restored the policy of iconoclasm that would last from 813 to 842. In 843, Empress Theodora restored the honouring of icons with the help of Patriarch Methodius. Iconoclasm played a role in the subsequent estrangement of the East from the West, a relationship that worsened during the so-called Photian Schism , when Pope Nicholas I challenged Patriarch Photius.
7th Century Crisis: The Arab Invasion
Economically, the empire lost its richest provinces to the Arab invasion. Eastern provinces like Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Mesopotamia, including their cities, were lost. Byzantine emperors shifted the centre of gravity of economic life from the city to the village. The process of ruralization intensified following the loss of the metropolises and hegemony in the Mediterranean. The basic economic unit became the village, or the obștea-chorion, the free peasant community which became both an economic unit and a fiscal unit, whose members were jointly responsible for paying taxes. It was also an administrative and judicial unit. Rural law was attributed to Emperor Justinian II, who reflected the changes in the Byzantine countryside and defended small peasant property. The term Polis disappeared (used only for Constantinople), for the other cities the term Kastron (fortified, castle) was used, demonstrating the loss of the economic function of the city and the shift to the military function. In trade, territorial losses resulted in the loss of control over trade routes in the Balkans and the East. Trade still took place in the Black Sea, Aegean and Adriatic Seas. After the loss of Egypt, which was the empire’s main granary, the emperors had to deal with the problem of grain supplies. They established a trade monopoly in the Pontic basin, concluding treaties with the Cossacks that defended the northern area and supplying grain to the empire from the Russian steppes and the Crimean Peninsula. The quantities of grain were compensated by imports from Thrace and Asia Minor. Currency circulation was affected, with the circulation of gold coin restricted. The quantities in which coins were minted were reduced. Radical social changes took place. Slaves became colonists and colonists became free people. The social structure became horizontal, dominated by free social communities. The Slavs would have contributed with the model of the free commune, but the transformations were linked to the Anatolian relief – the high relief being the ideal territory for the preservation of the commune structures. Invasions by Germanic, Slavic and Arab migrants affected towns and large estates that could no longer adapt to the new realities. Emperors reinforced this situation by colonising Asia Minor. The Great Property is still maintained, however, according to the work Life of St Philaret the Merciful. Administratively, the empire decentralised. A lean administration was created. The old functions as magister oficiorum disappeared, and the duties were taken over by the Logothetes. Changes also took place in the provincial administration. The old administrative structures were dislocated, creating the theme (a military unit stationed in a region) in the time of Heraclius. There were four themes: three land and one maritime. Later, themes also appeared in the western part: thema Thra
With the imposition of the hereditary principle of succession to the imperial throne, great dynasties were established over a long period. Between the 9th and 13th centuries there were three great dynasties:
Macedonian Dynasty (867-1081)
The Macedonian dynasty was founded by Basil I Macedonian in 867 after its rise was marked by Michael III, who proclaimed himself co-emperor. Basil plotted against Michael III. Michael dies assassinated, and Basil lays the foundations of the Macedonian dynasty. He ruled from 867-886. His nephew Constantine tried to justify his usurpation in Vita Vasili that Michael III was not capable of ruling an empire, being wrongly described as a drunkard and little concerned with the affairs of state.
Basil I was succeeded by Leo VI the Elder (886-912) who was not as highly regarded as his father who doubted he was his son. But as his favourite son died before him, Basil appointed Leo VI as his successor to the throne.
When Leo VI died, Constantine VII, born in the purple room, was a minor. Alexander, brother of Leo VI, ruled for a year.
It was not until 913 that Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus began his reign. He appointed Roman I Lecapenos as his Grand Drongar. During the reign of co-emperor Roman I, Constantine VII was more occupied with intellectual activities, and a circle of intellectuals was established at the imperial court. Roman I managed to keep the dynatii in check and initiated a series of campaigns in the East, with Turkuas as a loyal and cooperative general. Roman paired his sons to the throne, trying to establish a dynasty of his own. But his entire family was ousted by a popular uprising.
Constantine VII took over the empire until 959. He was succeeded to the throne by Roman II with a short reign (959-963), dying young and leaving three children, all Porphyrogenian-Vasile II, Constantine VIII and Anna.
In 963, Roman II’s widow married a great Byzantine general, Nikephor Phocas, who reigned as emperor from 963-969. In 969 he was assassinated by his wife and general Tzimiskes after achieving stunning successes in Syria. John I Tzimiskes became emperor (969-976), but had to fulfil conditions imposed by the Constantinople patriarchate: removal of the widow of Roman II and Nikephor Phocas, 40-day penance, donation of wealth to the poor.
In 976 the first legitimate emperor for many years, Basil II, came to the throne and ruled until 1025. He faced aristocratic revolts until 998 when he appealed to the kingship of Vladimir. He had no heirs to the throne, never married, spent his life in military campaigns and was austere.
In 1025 he was succeeded to the throne by Constantine VIII who reigned for only three years. In less than six years, the empire lost all its territories, reducing itself to Constantinople. He had three daughters, including Zoe Porphyrogenita who brought four emperors to the throne after she married the Bishop of Constantinople, Roman III Argyros, in 1028, who became emperor (1028-1034) and turned out to be a failed general.
Zoe married Michael IV on the evening of Roman III’s death. Michael IV, who was ill with epilepsy, ruled until 1041. Zoe was persuaded to adopt one of his nephews, Michael, who had been given the title of Caesar.
Michael V took over the leadership of the empire after his uncle’s abdication. He ruled briefly, until April 1042, but succeeded in removing Zoe and made her sister Theodora a monk. The people revolted as they supported Zoe, who was the rightful heir. Michael V was blinded and removed from the throne.
The two sisters, Zoe and Theodora, have come to rule the empire, causing disagreements between the two. Zoe married Constantine IX Monomachus, who ruled the empire from 1042-1055 and organised higher education. After his and Zoe’s deaths, Theodora came to the throne and died a year later. She was succeeded to the throne by Michael VI who was nicknamed ‘the Elder’. He ruled for only one year as he lost his throne to a revolt of the military aristocracy, led by Isaac the Comnen. Michael VI abdicated and Isaac I Comnenus was proclaimed emperor and ruled from 1056-1059. Thus the Comnen dynasty was established.
Meanwhile, Pope Leo IX (1049-1054) and the Patriarch of Constantinople Michael I Cerulean (1043-1058) completed the definitive rupture between the two churches in 1054, following irreconcilable disagreements (struggle for supremacy in the Christian world, theological differences, etc.). This split has been known in history as the Great Schism.
Thus, two distinct Churches emerged, one Western-Latin (Catholic Church) led by the Pope and one Eastern-Greek (Orthodox Church). From this period a real competition between the two Churches began. Each will try to expand its influence and increase the number of believers under its obedience.
The Patriarch of Constantinople is still considered by the Orthodox churches as the symbolic, honorary head of Orthodoxy. His position as ‘First among equals’ is well known, as he is considered by the other autocephalous churches in full liturgical communion.
Externally, during the Macedonian dynasty, radical changes took place. There was a shift to an offensive policy, legitimised by the universal character of the Empire of the Romans and the restoration of control over territories usurped by enemies. Macedonian legislation restored the old Byzantine universalist legislation of Justinian’s time.
In 879 the Procheiron manual was produced during the reign of Emperor Basil the Macedonian, inspired by the Institutes of Justinian and the Eclogue of Leo III the Isaurian. A few years later the Epanagoge, a new code of laws, was drawn up. In the time of Leo VI the Elder, the Basilicales-Emperor’s Laws were drawn up, which were an effort to adapt previous legislation and enshrined the character of imperial power: the senate, the people and the church subordinate to imperial authority. From this code of laws were extracted the objectives of imperial policy during the Macedonian dynasty: the resumption of control over the commercial and strategic routes that ensured the prosperity and defence of Constantinople, by re-conquering the eastern provinces, re-establishing Byzantine thalassocracy in the Mediterranean and regaining control over the Balkan Peninsula, and the return of the imperial frontier to the Danube line, in order to re-establish control over the two great commercial arteries-Via Ignatia and the Balkan Diagonala.
But the Macedonian kings also considered the resources at their disposal. Isaac I Comnenus said that rapid expansion could lead to decline. After the death of Harun al-Rashid, the East was going through a period of crisis, and the caliphate was beginning to break up, with emirates and new caliphates being established in the Iberian Peninsula, Egypt and Iraq. On the Byzantine frontier, many emirates were established. Michael III and Basil I of Macedon initiated the offensive policy.
They succeeded in re-establishing Byzantine control over the Taurus Mountains. General John Curcuas led the fight against the Muslim emirs, occupying Cilicia and penetrating the Euphrates river valley, opening the way to Iraq. Under Nicephor I and John I Tzimiskes continued the policy of conquest. The period would go down in history as the Byzantine Epic. Under Nichiphorus II Phocas, Mesopotamia and Syria were recaptured, and Antioch was occupied in 969, and in the summer of 976 it reached the vicinity of Jerusalem.
But after his unexpected death, his successes in the East were compromised. Basil II the Macedonian succeeded in suppressing revolts in 976-988 and continued fighting in the East to consolidate the territories conquered by his predecessors, giving up expansion. He succeeded in making peace with the Muslim emirs of Mosul and Aleppo, recognising Byzantine imperial authority.
In 1022, Basil II receives a promise from the king of Armenia that he will leave his kingdom to the emperor in his will. However, Basil II dies, failing to bring the kingdom of Armenia under Byzantine rule. In the Mediterranean, Nicephor Phocas conquers Crete in 961, recaptures Cyprus and Sicily. In the Balkan Peninsula, the Bulgarians joined the Christian community in the 9th century, and Byzantine-Bulgarian relations were good until the Bulgarian throne was occupied by Simeon, a former hostage held in Constantinople where he was introduced to Byzantine customs and practices.
Following the increase in Byzantine taxes, Simion, as Tsar of the Bulgarians, protests. Ignored by Leo VI, he invaded Thrace and Macedonia. The emperor appeals to the Hungarians who defeat the Bulgarians. The Bulgarian Tsarate often threatens the Byzantine capital and has extended its border to near Thessaloniki. After Simeon’s death in 927, his son Peter made peace with Byzantium. Roman I Lecapenos recognised Peter as the Bulgarian Basileus, joining the family of princes as the Emperor’s Beloved Son.
After Peter’s death, the Bulgarians attacked the Byzantine territories of 968, and Emperor Nicephor II Phocas called on the help of the Kiev cneiss Sviatoslav, as the Byzantine armies were in the east. Sviatoslav arrived in the Balkans with 70,000 soldiers and defeated the Bulgarians, but then intended to settle in the Balkans. The emperor could not accept this and so John Tzimiskes led a counter-offensive in 971. The Byzantine land army and fleet cut off the Russians’ retreat down the Danube. John Tizimskes entered Bulgaria, conquered Preslav and set off in pursuit of Sviatoslav . Under the walls of Silistra the confrontations took place, Sivatoslav was defeated. Most of the Russian army was destroyed after a clash with the Byzantine army. A treaty was concluded in which Sivatoslav renounced his claim to Bulgaria, promising not to attack the Chersones territories and to give aid to the emperor. He returned to Kiev, where in 972 he was killed by the Pechenegs.
The Byzantine frontier was re-established on the Danube line and Thema Paristrion was organised in Bulgaria.In 976 another Bulgarian uprising broke out in Macedonia, led by the sons of Count Nikora: David, Aaron and Moses. In 980, Samuel remained sole ruler of the territories in the central Balkan peninsula. In 1000, Basil concentrated his forces in the Balkan area for a campaign. He cut Samuel’s tsarate in two, starting from Thessaloniki and reaching Vidin. The Byzantines won many victories, and in the battle of 1014 in a gorge in western Macedonia, Basil II avoided a Bulgarian ambush. He eventually surrounded the Bulgarian army and captured it. He blinded all the soldiers and sent them back to Samuel. The confrontation has resumed. Samuel was usurped by John Vladislav in 1015, who was decisively defeated in 1018 by Basil II. New themes were created: Thema Bulgaria, Sirmium, Basil succeeded in seizing the Kingdom of Croatia.
The Duke Dynasty (Dukas) and the Comnen Dynasty (1056-1185)
In 1059, Isaac I Comnenus was forced to abdicate, and a period followed in which the empire came under the rule of the generals who were to represent the Duchy (Dukas). The first was Constantine X Duke (1059-1067). He was followed by Michael VII, whose mother Evdochia ruled as regent. Due to the growing crisis, Evdochia married Roman IV Diogenes who became emperor. He achieved some military successes against the Seljuk Turks. But in 1071 he was defeated by the Seljuks at the Battle of Mantzikert and taken captive.
Michael VII, now a major, took power. He blinded and drove Roman IV from the capital. He ruled from 1071-1078, during which time the Turks assaulted the empire’s provinces and the Normans conquered the Byzantine territories in the southern Italian peninsula. Seeking allies Michael Duke obtained through officials a deal with Geza III, one of the chieftains (“vajda”) of the Hungarians in constant conflict for supremacy – to this Geza III was sent as his wife the niece of a high official and a gold diadem with enamelled portraits and pendant chains around his ears, the diadem which is the basis of the present crown of the kings of Hungary. On the pediment is Jesus, on the diametrically opposite side is mounted the portrait of “Mihail Duca the Imparatil of the Romans”, and below it the portrait of a general from Constantinople and that of the chieftain Geza III. An internal grain crisis broke out in the empire – Mikhail tried to store grain at the Black Sea, but the price of bread rose. Following a military revolt in 1078, Michael VII abdicated. The throne was taken by Nichifor III Botaniates who ruled for three years, during which time the empire was ravaged by civil wars.
Following a military revolt, Nichifor III was overthrown and the throne was taken by Alexios I Comnenus, restoring the Comnenian dynasty. He had a long reign from 1081 to 1118. He tried to restore the prestige of the empire, restoring control over the Pechenegs and regaining territories in the east.
The policy was continued by John II the Comnenus (1118-1143) during whose time there were tensions over the succession to the imperial throne. The eldest daughter, Anna Comnena, laid claim to the rule of the empire and was porfyrogenated. John II faced two plots by his mother and daughter Anne.
The throne was eventually occupied by Manuel I Comnenus, who ruled until 1180, marrying the niece of Emperor Conrad III of the Holy Roman Empire. He then married Mary of Antioch, who bore him a son, named Alexios II. Many Latin knights came to the imperial court and held office. Manuel became involved in western politics, attempting to seize the throne of Apusene Europe, neglecting the eastern border of the empire and suffering a defeat at Myriokephalon. He was succeeded to the throne by Alexios II, the regency being retained by Mary of Antioch. Andronicus, his cousin, took advantage of grievances about the role of the Latins in the empire and thus sparked a revolt against the Latins.
In 1183, after the massacre of the Latins and the murder of Alexios II, Andronicus proclaimed himself emperor, ruling despotically and establishing a reign of terror that lasted until 1185. He was overthrown by the angry populace, publicly mistreated and murdered.
The 11th century crisis
The period 1025-1081 was marked by a deep crisis at home and abroad. In just 56 years, Byzantium lost control of all its provinces. This period is well reflected in a work written by an eyewitness to the events, Mikhail Psellos, in his Chronography. His attention was focused on political issues. He became imperial secretary in 1140, then leader of the Senate, adviser to Emperor Constantine X Dukas and later to Michael VII Dukas. His name is also linked to the reorganisation of the University of Constantinople under Constantine IX Monomachus. Psellos speaks very little about the external crisis of the Byzantine state, only when referring to one emperor or another. Psellos regards the age of Basil II the Macedonian as a golden age, and criticises his brother Constantine as not having continued Basil’s policy. In 1028, after Romanos III Argyros became emperor, his reign was marked by the favours and gifts he offered to various dignitaries. He prepared an expedition against the Saracens, but was defeated. The emperor was envious of Solomon’s Temple and the Hagia Sophia built by Justinian, so he wanted to build one himself. Eventually, Romanos III Argyros was assassinated and the throne was taken by Michael IV. Psellos praised him, partly because Michael had chosen him as his advisor. Suffering from epilepsy, Mikhail abdicated and Mikhail V took the throne. Psellos usually associates him with the term ‘tyrant’, because he wanted to remove Zoe from the throne by sending her to a monastery. Following a popular uprising, the empress was returned to the palace. Zoe’s sister Theodora was brought from the monastery and placed on the throne, so the two sisters ruled for some time. The difference between the two sisters led Zoe to marry a third time, and Constantine IX Monomachus came to the throne. He, like all the other emperors, was a representative of the civil aristocracy. Constantine dies in 1055 and the rule of the empire is taken over by Theodora, who rules until her death in 1056, thus the Macedonian Dynasty is distinguished on the female line. Michael VI, who had been chosen as successor by Theodora, takes the throne. He was eventually stripped of power by a representative of the military aristocracy. The military revolt was led by Isaac Comnenus and broke out in 1057, when he seized power. Psellos admitted that from the beginning, the aim of Isaac’s reign was to put an end to the evil in the Empire, but he felt that he should not have been so quick to impose certain reforms. The emperor cancelled all donations and favours made by his predecessors, and these domains came into the possession of the state, including those given to the churches. He also improved the system of tax collection.
Dynasty of Angels (1185-1204)
Isaac II Angelos appointed himself emperor and established the Angel Dynasty. He was overthrown in 1195 by his own brother, Alexios III Angelos, who in turn was overthrown by the Latin Crusaders in 1203. Isaac II Angelos was restored to the throne alongside Alexios IV. But in February 1204, the population, unhappy with the presence of the Crusaders, revolted again and ousted them both. Alexios V Ducas was proclaimed as the new emperor and ruled until April 1204.
There were four factors that profoundly influenced the course of events: two universal factors (the Papacy and the German Empire) and two local factors (the Normans and the Venetians). In the middle of the 11th century, the two Churches split: The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the middle of the 11th century, the schism was not noticed by all those involved in the events.Michael Psellos does not even mention the schism; it seemed to be a rupture that could be repaired at some point. Relations between the Byzantine state and the Papacy were close throughout the 12th century.
Alexios I Comnenus tries to obtain the crown of the West from the threatened pontiff in Rome. There is a correspondence between Peter the Venerable and the Byzantine authorities (Patriarch of Constantinople, the Emperor), in which the tone used is as complimentary as possible to the Byzantine Emperor.In the middle of the 12th century Manuel I Comnenus allies himself with the Papacy against Frederick I Barbarossa and the Normans. Manuel was trying to obtain from the Papacy the Crown of the West, as Nicetas Choniates says.Choniates speaks of this project of Manuel I Comnenus to bring the borders of the Empire “as far as the Pillars of Hercules” (Gibraltar).But the defeat suffered and the reconciliation with Barbarossa was treason. With the Pope’s betrayal, resentment between Byzantines and Catholics began to emerge.All the events that unfolded during the 12th century were to bring to light the differences between high Byzantium and the West.It was then that the Great Schism of 1054 came to light.
In 1203-1204, when the Crusader army was under the walls of Constantinople, Byzantines (on the walls) and Westerners (under the walls) were accusing each other, calling each other schismatics and heretics, the Westerners calling the Byzantines “even worse than the Jews”.
Roman-German Empire – as with the Papacy, relations are normal at first, even close. Anna Comnena speaks of the alliance between her father Alexios and Henry IV. The struggle for investiture and the political difficulties of the Roman Empire meant that this alliance was maintained and even strengthened by the marriage of the heir, Manuel I, to a German princess, the niece of Emperor Konrad III. Relations changed with the accession to the throne of Frederick Barbarossa, who rediscovered the Roman idea of a single, universal empire (he rediscovered Justinian’s Code). This was to lead to the reopening of the conflict between the two empires.In Frederick Barbarossa’s view, the Byzantine Empire was a regnum grecorum (kingdom of the Greeks) and Emperor Manuel I Comnenus was rex grecorum.
These expressions appear in the letters sent by Barbarossa to Constantinople, mentioned in the Chronicle of John Kinnamos.The conflict would intensify during the Third Crusade, in which the emperor himself participated. Following a conflict he had with the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos, Frederick Barbarossa even raised the question of conquering Constantinople. In a letter to the heir to the throne of the Roman Empire, Henry VI, Barbarossa asks him to appeal to the Pope to organise a crusade against Byzantium, and takes the Venetian fleet to storm Constantinople.After Frederick Barbarossa’s death, Henry VI threatens Byzantium and even gets Constantinople to pay tribute. The early death of Henry VI and the outbreak of a conflict between the possible heirs to the throne meant that the Roman Empire did not get involved in the Fourth Crusade.
Byzantium and the Normans
In the summer of 1081, under the leadership of Robert Guiscard, the first expedition against the Byzantine state begins. His ambition was to conquer the city of Constantinople in order to establish a Mediterranean empire. This first expedition took place between 1081 and 1085. The Normans land at Dyrrachium. The city is besieged from both land and sea.
Alexios Comnenus did not have enough forces to resist the Normans and called on the help of the Venetian fleet. The Venetians intervene and clear the fortress of Lyrrachium from the sea, but on land the Byzantine forces are defeated and the fortress is conquered. After the conquest of Dyrrachium, the Normans set out for Constantinople. The situation seemed rather complicated for the Byzantine state. At least until Robert Guiscard is forced to return to Italy, leaving command of the army in the Balkan Peninsula to his son, Boemund of Taranto. Later, Robert Guiscard’s unexpected death would also lead Boemund of Taranto to leave the battle and return to Italy to reclaim the throne.
The Norman army begins to lose ground and so the Normans are pushed towards the Adriatic Sea, forced to leave the Balkan Peninsula, and in 1085 the fortress of Dyrrachium is recaptured. Boemund of Taranto was to take part in the First Crusade and his name was to be linked to the scandal over the rule of Antioch.Boemund refused to return Antioch to the Byzantine emperor, laying the foundations of a Latin kingdom which he took over.
Between 1105 and 1106, Boemund of Tarent organised a trip to the Western courts, accompanied by papal legates, where he tried to prove to everyone that the Byzantine emperor was a traitor and that Byzantium was the main obstacle to the Crusaders’ success in the East. The Byzantines were much more pragmatic, open to signing agreements with the Seljuk Turks.
The Byzantines invoked the interests of the state with regard to concluding agreements with the Turks.Thus began the Second Byzantine-Norman War (1107-1108). The Norman forces were defeated by Alexios I Comnenus, and Boemund was even forced to agree to a treaty with the Byzantine emperor in which he recognised himself as his vassal and pledged that on his death Antioch would be returned to Byzantium (which did not happen).
The third expedition takes place in the summer of 1147, at a time when the Second Crusade begins. Manuel I Comnenus, in order to face the Crusaders’ passage through Byzantium, mobilises his forces in the area of the capital. The Norman king, Roger II, at the head of his fleet, attacks Greece. Some of the most important cities (Corinth, Thebes) are sacked. The purpose of the expedition was not so much political as economic. Theba was the most important silk production centre after Constantinople. After conquering the city, the Normans took the tools from the workshops and took the craftsmen captive, taking them and their tools to southern Italy (Sicily). The event was a great blow to Byzantium. Activity resumed, but not at the same level as before the conquest of Thebes. This event is at the root of the decline of this craft in Byzantium and its development in the West.
In 1185, William II (Wilhelm) landed on the Balkan Peninsula, his main target being the city of Thessaloniki. The city was conquered and sacked by the Normans. Panic broke out in Byzantium, and after the Normans began their march to Constantinople, revolts began against Emperor Andronicus (dethroned and assassinated), with Isaac II Angelos taking his place.
Byzantium’s losses in the wars with the Normans showed that the Byzantine Empire was not unbeatable and that a large mobilisation of forces could be a plus for the West. The riches of the East were another reason for the conquest of Byzantium.
Venice and Byzantium
Byzantium’s relationship with Venice was much older. Venice, according to medieval legends, appeared in the 5th century. In the following centuries Venice also began to assert itself politically and economically. In 811, Venetian merchants stole the relics of St Mark of Alexandria, which were moved to Venice. Since then, St Mark has been the patron saint of Venice. They intervened on the Byzantines’ side whenever necessary. In return for their help, the Byzantines, under Basil II Macedonian, offered the Venetians a reduction in trade taxes of up to 4%.
In 1081 Alexios I Comnenus appeals to the Venetians; the Venetians’ intervention leads to the liberation of Lyrrachium from the sea.
In May 1082, Alexios I Comnenus grants the Venetians the greatest commercial privileges he had ever granted to any Byzantine emperor. The Doges of Venice and the Church of St. Mark received money. Far more important was the commercial privileges. The Venetians were exempt from paying trade taxes. They were protected by imperial officials. At the same time Venetians were given the right to settle in Constantinople and to open shops, workshops in the Byzantine capital and were given a quarter in which to settle.
It was a treaty that had important consequences for the Byzantine Empire and Venice, the latter laying the foundations of its vast colonial empire in the East, but especially for the former, who were losing important revenues.
The Byzantine state was opening a breach in its economic and commercial system, a breach that was to be widened at the beginning of the 12th century (1111-1112) by granting further privileges to the merchants of Pisa. Manuel I was to bring the Genoese into the empire (1169). The Venetians asked John II the Comnenus to renew the treaty, but he refused and a conflict broke out between the two sides (1122-1126).
The Venetians attack and conquer several Greek islands, even threatening Constantinople, at which point, John II Comnenus, lacking a powerful fleet to counter the Venetians, gives in and accepts the renewal of privileges.
Manuel I thought that Venice could become an ally against the Normans in 1148.This alliance would not work (at least not as the Byzantine emperor would have imagined).
The Venetians realize that the installation of the Byzantines in Italy, desired by Manuel Comnenus, would have had the same effect as the installation of the Normans in the Balkans (sending the Normans to the Adriatic).
Manuel I thus turned to the Genoese; he installed them in a district adjacent to the Venetians. The Venetians attack the Genoese quarter with stones. Manuel I Comnenus summons the Venetians and asks them to pay compensation to the Genoese, but, as John Kinnamos tells us, the Venetians treat the emperor arrogantly. Manuel I, dissatisfied with the attitude of the Venetians, sent letters to all the provinces of the empire and on 12 March 1171 all the Venetians in the empire were arrested. John Kinnamos says that their numbers were so great that they had no more room in prisons and were detained in monasteries.
The whole situation provoked the reaction of Venice, which sent its fleet to Constantinople, but the expedition failed due to a plague epidemic. Later, relations were to calm down, but the Venetians could no longer be persuaded to return to the Byzantine markets. In 1182, when a strong anti-Byzantine revolt took place, no Venetian casualties were mentioned.From 1177, when a conference was held in Venice, an anti-Byzantine alliance was formed, which included Venice, the Kingdom of Sicily and the Romano-German Empire.
For Nicetas Choniates, the doge of Venice , Enrico Dandoloa , had the ambition to take part in the Fourth Crusade.
In the first decade of the reign of Alexios I Comnenus, the emperor’s attention was focused on the Balkans and Asia Minor, concluding an agreement with the Count of Flanders to send him a troop of mercenaries ( 500), who participated with the Byzantine army in the recapture of territories in front of Constantinople. As for the Pechenegs, the Byzantine sovereign made an alliance with the Cumaeans against them, so that in the summer of 1091 the Battle of Levounion took place, with the Byzantines as the victors (but quite a large number of them were massacred, including women and children). Problems arose when the West began preparations for a military expedition to recapture the Holy Places, which were controlled by the Seljuk Turks.
Much has been made of a request for help sent by Alexios to Pope Urban II, in which he noted that Byzantium needed European troops to repel the Seljuks. The document has not been preserved in its entirety, but fragments of it show that the emperor complained about the Seljuk incursions, the destruction of churches and even agreed to surrender Constantinople to the Westerners rather than see it occupied by the Seljuks. In reality, the letter was a forgery. Sources speak of the presence of a Byzantine delegation at the Council of Piacenza. It is not known what their activity at the Council was, nor what their mission was that they were to carry out here.
In 1096, the First Crusade sets out for the East. The first wave was led by Peter the Hermit and Walker the Poor, which was made up of the poor. It started in Central Europe and reached the Balkans, the crossing of the peninsula shocking the Greeks, Anna Comnena likening them to a wave of locusts as they plundered everything in their path. The Archbishop of Ohrida, Theophylact writes that the invasion of the Franks so surprised the Byzantines that they could not react (they were amazed by the violence). This mass reached Constantinople, and Alexios secured their supplies and advised them not to cross into Asia Minor until the other forces arrived, aware that they were easy prey for the Seljuks. Anna Comnena’s account is also confirmed by the Gesta Francorum, in terms of the damage done by the Crusaders. The barbaric behaviour of the crusaders led Alexios to drive them across the straits, so that the pilgrims became easy prey for the Seljuks, who destroyed these forces. The French remnants eventually made it back to the West. This move surprised the Byzantines, since they believed that powerful knights would come from the West and have the power to conquer Jerusalem.
Towards the end of 1096, knights arrived in Byzantium. The Greeks were suspicious of these knights who had appeared around the capital, because among them was Bohemund of Tarent, a former rival of the Byzantines. Anna Comnena in the Alexiada states at one point that if the commoner people were driven by a sincere desire to worship before the Holy Sepulchre, others like Bohemund actually wanted to conquer Constantinople. Alexios finds a way to negotiate with these knights, all the more so because some of them, like Raymond de Saint-Gilles, are very close to the emperor. Alexios’s solution was to ask them, in return for their promise to provide supplies and to participate with a body of troops in the expedition, to swear an oath of vassalage. This did not exist in Byzantium, but the emperor knew its value to Westerners. After an initial negative reaction, the knights begin to take the oath, with the exception of Tancred. In addition, they promised the emperor that they would return to him the territories that had once belonged to the empire and which they were going to recover from the Seljuks. Under these circumstances, the knights crossed the straits to Asia, and began the siege of Nicaea.
The siege dragged on, with the Crusaders attempting to establish a total blockade of the city, but it was set on the shore of a lake, but they failed to cut off all supplies. It was also psychological warfare, with the Franks throwing the heads of those fleeing the city over the walls. Eventually, Sultan Klij Arslan negotiated the surrender of the fortress to Alexios. The Crusaders were surprised to see that overnight the city had been occupied by the Byzantines. This was the first break between the Crusaders and the Greeks, as the emperor did not allow the Greeks to plunder the city. However, the conflicts are resolved and the expedition continues. The Crusaders choose an arduous path, deciding to cut Asia Minor in two, as it has neither a welcoming landscape nor a mild climate in the middle of summer. After the victory at Dorylaeum, the Turks put up little resistance and the Crusaders are able to advance freely to Antioch.
Eventually, the Franks reach Antioch and lay siege to the city. But the siege would last longer than the Crusaders expected, and here other big problems would arise. After the conquest of the city, Bohemund refuses to surrender the city to the emperor, citing his role in the conquest of the city. Disputes even arise among the Crusaders, with Raymond of Toulouse opposing the Norman nobleman. A compromise was eventually reached so as not to jeopardise the expedition, and the disputes were postponed until after the First Crusade. At the same time the foundations of the County of Edessa were laid, with Baldwin of Boulogne as governor.
The expedition continues its journey and Jerusalem is conquered in 1099. This expedition lays the foundations for a system of Latin states in the East: The Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Edessa and Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch. It was not until the second half of the 16th century that the Empire of Antioch was founded. Manuel the Comnenus was to enter Antioch triumphant.
The Byzantines also benefited from the second expedition, as problems caused by the Turkish Crusaders allowed the Greeks to occupy the western shores of Asia Minor as well as the Black Sea. Alexios’ policy of conquest was continued by John the Comnenus.After John’s death, during Manuel’s rule, the Seljuks conquered Edessa (1144), triggering the Second Crusade. The Second Crusade was published by Berbard of Clairvaux in France and Germany and this time, unlike the first expedition, the leadership of the crusade is taken over by Louis VII and Conrad III. The two groups arrive separately at Constantinople, with great inconvenience caused to the Germans as they crossed the Balkan Peninsula.
The Byzantine historian John Kinnamos relates the problems created by the Crusaders in the Balkan Peninsula and has the same impression that Anna Comnena had about the intentions of the Crusaders, stating that in theory the Celts and Gauls wanted to fight against the Persians (Turks), but in practice they wanted to conquer Constantinople. Conrad was joined by Frederick Barbarossa, who supported the German soldiers’ plundering actions. Less trouble for the French, who were more disciplined, but once they reached Constantinople, they were unhappy about Manuel’s desire to obtain a vassalage oath from Louis. He refuses, so the French camp comes up with the idea of conquering Constantinople. The king refuses the idea of besieging the Byzantine capital and eventually reaches an agreement with Manuel I, who renounces his claim to a vassalage oath.
The two armies gathered at Constantinople were passed to Asia Minor by the imperial fleet, but the expedition almost failed. Conrad is defeated by the Seljuks and retreats to Constantinople, with a contingent of troops arriving in Palestine. But the Crusaders did not achieve their objective, so they retreated to Europe.
In sec. XII, the situation in the West changes, in the context of the reconciliation between the papacy and the emperor, so that an anti-Byzantine alliance is established (Venice and Sicily were also part of it). Frederick’s position is strengthened and his son marries the heiress to the Sicilian throne.In the East, after the demise of the Comnen dynasty, uprisings begin within the Empire, in the Balkans (Serbs and Vlach-Bulgarians). Gradually, local Greek principalities are established which come out from under imperial authority.
It was a period when Byzantine emperors were seeking alliances, with Andronicus himself concluding a treaty with Saladin, the same sultan who was to conquer Jerusalem in 1187. The event led to the outbreak of the Third Crusade, in which Frederick I Barbarossa, Philip II August and Richard the Lionheart took part. As early as 1188, Frederick sent a message to Constantinople, informing Emperor Isaac II Angelos of his intention to cross the Balkan Peninsula. The Byzantine monarch gives his consent, but afterwards it seems that he spreads the word and holds the German emperor’s soldiers captive in Constantinople.
The German army enters the Balkan Peninsula, following the route of the First Crusade, and attacks the Byzantine cities as the emperor refuses to release the soldiers of Frederick I. The eyewitness of the devastation wrought by the Germans is Nicetas Konyates, author of a history of the reign of Manuel Comnenus and the events up to that point. Barbarossa attacks important cities on the Balkan Peninsula, Adrianople, and German soldiers end up plundering the districts outside the Byzantine capital. Around the same time, in November 1189, Frederick I sends a letter to his son Henry VI asking him to contact the pope to preach an anti-Byzantine crusade and send the fleet of Italian cities into the straits to attack Constantinople. The fact that Isaac II finally gave in led to a treaty at Adrianople, so that the Germans’ attempt to conquer Constantinople was prevented.
After the treaty is concluded, German troops are moved to Asia Minor. The expedition seemed to start out on a most favourable note, with the Germans defeating the Seljuks, but his unexpected disappearance in Syria in 1190 led to the withdrawal of the German army from the East. The other two groups, the English and the French, avoided Constantinople, following a sea route to the East, Richard succeeding in conquering the island of Cyprus, then ruled by Isaac the Comnenus. It was ceded to Guy de Lusignan, who would become King of Cyprus. Clearly the two groups were unlikely to achieve much in the context of disagreements between the leaders. The only major success was the conquest of Acre. At the end of the century, the At the end of the 13th century, the idea of another expedition to the East arose again. It is true that things had changed again with the death of Henry VI, and so the struggle for the throne began in the German Empire, with Otto of Braunschweig and Philip of Swabia (he was the son-in-law of Isaac Angelos) as the exponents. Isaac had been dethroned by his own brother in 1195, Isaac III Angelos, blinding him and throwing him into prison. This prompted Isaac II’s son Alexios to react. The Kingdom of Sicily was in a difficult situation because Frederick II was a minor and under the tutelage of Pope Innocent III. The situation was also delicate in France, where the king’s measures had caused discontent among much of the French nobility.
The call for the Fourth Crusade was issued by Innocent III (his period is considered the apogee of the medieval papacy). The pontifical call was answered by great knights, mainly from France (especially Flanders). The crusaders began to gather in 1201, and a leader of the expedition, the Count of Champagne (Thibaut), was appointed, but died shortly afterwards, so the leader of the expedition became the Marquis of Montferrat (his principality was in northern Italy). The main problem for the crusaders was transport, as the number of crusaders was high (33,000 men). Their stated aim was to occupy Egypt, so they needed a fleet to cross the Mediterranean, and to this end they turned to Genoa and Venice. Genoa refused, but the doge of Venice Enrico Dandolo accepted . Venetian resentment of the Byzantines was very strong after 1171, so the doge accepted the Crusaders’ proposal to transport their army to Egypt, but demanded a huge sum (80,000 ducats) in return, and with the Crusaders having only 2
Between November 1202 and the beginning of 1203, the son of Isaac Angelos, the dethroned emperor in 1095, Prince Alexios, appeared in the Crusader camp. He was close to the crusaders because he was related to Philip of Swabia, who was also a cousin of Boniface of Montfferat. It seems that the pope was aware of Prince Alexios’ action, and Innocent III initially supported the idea of crusader support for the reinstatement of Isaac II Angelos to the throne. The pope’s support was linked to his desire to restore the unity of the Christian Church. Prince Alexios made important promises to the crusaders, including a large sum of money (some 200,000 silver coins according to some reports), the participation of the Byzantine army in the crusading expedition, the provision of supplies for the crusaders and the defence of the Holy Places once they had been recaptured. These promises led the Crusaders to consider diverting the expedition to Constantinople, but Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, also played an important role. Alexios’ promises and the Venetians’ desire to reach Constantinople led the Crusaders to head for the Byzantine capital. They reached Constantinople in the spring of 1203, with land forces defending the Venetian fleet alongside them. According to Western sources on the Fourth Crusade, a representative of the great nobility, Godefroy de Villerhardouin, and Robert de Clari, a representative of the lesser nobility, the Crusaders expected Prince Alexios to be greeted enthusiastically by the Byzantine population, but this was not the case. The Greeks in Constantinople were not interested in seeing Isaac Angelos back on the throne.
But the presence of the Crusaders in front of the city caused a movement of discontent in the Byzantine capital, and Emperor Alexios III managed to flee the city, taking most of the imperial wealth with him. After Alexios III’s escape, Isaac II was released from prison and reinstated on the imperial throne, with his son Alexios IV reigning as co-emperor. Alexios IV had the support of the Crusaders to carry out his plan, but major problems arose when he was forced to honour his promises to the Crusaders, especially when it came to money. He negotiated with them an extension of the treaty for another 6 months, until April 1204. The fact that the Latins stayed in Constantinople was not without consequences. Both Western sources and Nicetas Konyates report these consequences, all the more so as some actions of the Crusaders caused discontent among the Byzantine population (a mosque was attacked by the Crusaders and defended by the Byzantines alongside the Muslims). Robert de Clari said that the Byzantines and the Crusaders insulted each other, and this was the moment when the religious rift between East and West was realised (even the Latin priests accused the Greeks of being worse than the Jews). These grievances over the presence of the Crusaders and Alexios’ inability to govern the empire led to the outbreak of a revolt in February 1204.
The two emperors were dethroned (Isaac II died shortly afterwards), and in their place was proclaimed another emperor, a representative of the Byzantine aristocracy, Alexios Dukas, who became emperor as Alexius V Duke. He takes measures to defend the city, refusing to fulfil the promises made by Alexius IV, and the crusaders have two options: to try to force the new Byzantine emperor to respect the treaty concluded with his predecessor, or to leave Constantinople and continue the expedition to Egypt. They chose the first option, and from March 1204 discussions began about the siege of Constantinople. A document, known as Partitio Romaniae, is drawn up in the Crusader camp.
According to this document, the Crusaders were to storm Constantinople and divide up the Byzantine territories they were to control after occupying the Byzantine capital. The document provided for the establishment of a Latin empire with Constantinople as its capital, the leaders of the expedition received a number of Byzantine territories, but by far the one who gained the most from this division was the Doge of Venice. According to the treaty, Venice was to get 3
The second problem was related to the division of Byzantine territories. Here things were not so simple, as the Western crusaders met with very strong resistance from the Greek population, and eventually two systems of states were set up, the Latin states: Latin Empire of Constantinople, Kingdom of Thessalonica (formed in an attempt to indemnify the Marquis of Monferrato), several Latin principalities in Greece ( Moreea reverting to the de Villehardouin family). Venice obviously managed to reserve the most important positions, obtaining 3
Sources of the Crusades
The main source for the First Crusade is the Alexiad written by Anna Comnena, daughter of Alexios I. She was a porphyrogenet princess, was betrothed to Michael VII Dukas’s son Constantine as an infant, and as the first-born of the imperial couple, she was convinced from childhood that she would be heir to the imperial throne. Her hopes were dashed after the birth of Alexios’s son, John the Comnenus, who had the emperor. In fact, Anna Comnenna would challenge her brother’s right to become emperor, her ambitions supported by their mother, Irina Dukas. The two women hatched two plots, which is why John II imprisoned her in a monastery. The Alexiad is dedicated to her father, and apart from the fact that it presents the actions of Alexios I Comnenus in the most favourable light, the Alexiad is a work representative of a very strong current of opinion in 17th century Byzantium. It is a movement characterized by hostility to the West and a refusal to accept rapprochement between Byzantines and Westerners. With regard to the First Crusade, the princess refers to the launching of the papal appeal (this had a huge echo in the Western world). She says that the Celtic warriors were preceded by a crowd of unarmed men who were more numerous than the sand of the sea and the stars. The Crusaders’ passage through the Balkans is likened to a swarm of locusts, given the damage done. Anna Comnena speaks of her father’s surprise when he saw such an army arrive in front of Constantinople. Her father was wary of this mob and did not pass them into Asia Minor as they asked. Only after being forced to transport them to Asia Minor did the emperor agree to do so. If the Byzantine princess accepts the idea that the impoverished were driven to the Crusade by a desire to worship at the Holy Places, the same cannot be said of the knights. The Byzantine princess’s impression of the crusaders was that the western nobles wanted to conquer Constantinople, the emperor himself fearing their coming, for he knew their unbridled eagerness, their fickle and changeable soul, and all that is in the nature of the Celts. The first contacts with the knights arriving in Constantinople are an opportunity for the Byzantine princess to highlight their arrogant and truculent attitude. One example the Byzantine princess gives is the letter sent by the King of France, Hugo de Vermandois, who, proud of his noble origins, asked to be welcomed with all pomp. The rudeness and arrogance of the Latins is illustrated by the episode in which a Western nobleman takes the imperial throne (he was also unfamiliar with Byzantine protocol). He also portrays Bohemund of Tarent and his father, Robert, who was not favourably portrayed. Bohemund was not better characterised either, but he recognises his beauty. On
The second source belongs to John Kynnamos, author of a chronicle written after 1180.The author intends to continue the Alexiad of Anna Comnena from 1118 to 1176. He writes only from what he was able to hear from other witnesses about John II.He focuses his attention on Manuel I Comnenus. He was very close to this emperor, he was his secretary. Kynnamos cannot agree with the relationship with the West and the Latins. Manuel was an admirer of the Western way of life, of the Western Cossal ideal.At the imperial court in Constantinople there were many Latins. Manuel I’s first wife was of German origin, his second was a princess of Antioch. Kynnamos is fully convinced of the political, moral and cultural superiority of the Byzantines and their empire. The Empire, in Kynnamos’ view, is the centre of the whole world, Constantinople is the political centre of the whole world, and the claims of the Westerners and the German-Roman Empire are unfounded. He believes that the Pope is the main culprit for the conflict between the Byzantine Empire and the Roman-German Empire. Like Anna Comnena, Kynnamos cannot understand the crusading phenomenon, cannot understand the feelings of Western Christians, and even in his account of the beginning of the Second Crusade, Kynnamos says that the real purpose of the expedition was to conquer the territories of the Byzantine Empire. The institution of the Crusade and the beliefs that animated the Westerners were completely incomprehensible to the Byzantine spirit. When they reached the territory of the Byzantine Empire, led by King Conrad and his nephew Frederick Barbarossa, the Germans’ behaviour seems to justify Kynnamos’ fears. Once in the lowlands, they plundered the very people who were supposed to be supplying the troops. The Germans regarded these actions with perfect indifference; Kynnamos insists that Frederick Barbarossa, in particular, had an indifferent, violent and proud character. It required the intervention of a Byzantine army corps. There were several conflicts; the intention to plunder a monastery sparks one of them. Once attacked and surprised by the military tactics of the Muslims, the barbarians became cowardly, cowardly, unable to react and make a decision. The French did not show the same arrogance, they proved that they had no intention of showing disloyalty and acting against the Romans. Kynnamos explains this attitude of the French by the fact that they either learned from the mistakes of the German army or that this was their character. After the Venice Agreement of 1177, when an anti-Byzantine alliance had been formed, Manuel was looking for new allies; he turned to the kingdom of France.
The third source belongs to Nicetas Choniates (c. 1155, Chonai – 1215, Nicaea).He occupied important positions in the imperial administration, beginning his career also during the reign of Manuel I. He was governor of the Theta in the Balkans (Nicopolis). He joined the ranks of high Byzantine dignitaries under Alexios II Angelos.He was an eyewitness to the events of 1204.After the conquest of Constantinople he took refuge in Selimbria on the Black Sea coast, and from 1207 we find him at the Imperial Court in Nicaea. His work, entitled History, covers the period 1118-1206 and is considered one of the Byzantine masterpieces. During his time in Nicaea he rewrote a large part of his work, especially the part devoted to events after 1180, seeking to find those responsible for the events of 1204, not only the westerners but also the emperors. The idea of a universal empire remains. Obviously, going along this traditional line, emancipation movements and revolts.Criticism is directed at the emperors and not at the imperial institution. Manuel I Comnenus – the ambition to gain the crown of the West and bring the borders of the empire up to … where Justinian had failed. Isaac II Angelos – was driven by greed and encouraged venality, put offices and dignities up for saleAlexios III Angelos (and his close associates) – was so fond of hunting that he forbade the felling of trees on his hunting grounds, despite the pressing needs of the Byzantine fleet, sold everything that could be sold from the fleet, even anchors, while preferring to joke with the Basilians about mobilizing the Latins; so only “20 rotten boats” resisted the Latins. The event most fully described by Choniates is the conquest of Constantinople, 1204. The 1204 event is, in his view, a divine punishment inflicted on the chosen people for their sins, he also criticises his compatriots; Constantinople was a city dominated by lawlessness and debauchery He criticises the reactions of the people around Constantinople, saying that they enjoyed the misfortunes of the inhabitants of the capital.There was discontent with Constantinople’s fiscal policy. The causes of the disaster were, in Choniates’ view, the political errors of Manuel I, the mismanagement of the emperors of the Angelos dynasty and, last but not least, the resentment between Byzantines and Latins, built up over a century. As for the image of the Westerners, we have a complex, collective picture when the author refers generally to the Latins. The term Latins is used in Byzantine sources to designate those under the obedience of the Pope. We speak of a specifically particular image when the Normans, Venetians, etc. are presented separately. This concept of barbarians includes all those who were not part of the Byzantine world.
The conquest of Constantinople and the behavior of the Crusaders in the capital of Byzantium prompts Choniates to resort to the harshest epithets in characterizing the Latins as “Precursors of Antichrist” Anyone who contradicted the Crusaders in the slightest was subject to numerous horrors.Even the Turks were closer to the Byzantine historian, at least in terms of mentality, than these “fighters in the name of Christ”. Nor do they forgive the Venetians. The Venetian Doge is portrayed as the worst. For the Choniates there is no trace of civility in these Latins. He tells of the destruction of many works of art, statues; the Latins had no idea of the value of the destroyed works. Condemns the betrayal of the idea of the Crusade. For the Choniates, too, the Crusade was a pretext for enslaving brothers of faith, after all, but the Crusade had nothing in common with what happened in Constantinople in 1204. Thus the deepest chasm of enmity opens up; the conquest of Constantinople is the most discussed event of the age.
Following the division of the Byzantine state after the Fourth Crusade, two groups of states were formed: the Latin states: The Latin Empire of Constantinople , the Principality of Morea and Thessalonica , and the Greek Resistance States : The Empire of Trapezunt, on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, a peripheral position( led by the Comnenes, founded by the grandson of Andronicus Comnenus), the Despotate of Epirus with its centre at Arta (led by two brothers of Alexios III Angelos, Michael and Theodore, having an infornating rise, at least in the first two decades after the conquest of Constantinople). In 1224, the Despotate of Epirus conquers Thessalonica and lays the foundations of the Empire of Thessalonica, a Greek empire that lasts until 1230, when the Empire of Thessalonica is defeated by the Bulgarian Tsarate of John Asan II, the empire is restored to despotate status and comes under the authority of the Emperor of Nicaea.
The most important role was played by the Empire of Nicaea. The foundations were laid by Theodore I Lascaris who ruled until 1222. He linked his name with the establishment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in exile. In 1208 he was crowned Patriarch of Constantinople to add to his image. He succeeded in stopping the Latin advance from Constantinople into Asia Minor. He concluded a treaty with the Latin Empire of Constantinople in 1214, recording the maintenance of the status quo at that time. Develops a plan aimed at regaining Constantinople. He proposed to accept union with the Church of Rome and resumed a policy of commercial privileges. He concluded a treaty with Venice in 1219 granting them the right to trade in his territories but not to settle. The plan was never to be carried through. The Greeks resisted strongly because they did not want union with Rome. He could not marry the heiress of the Latin Empire of Constantinople.
After his death, the throne went to his son-in-law, John III Ducas Vatatzes, who ruled until 1254. He was able to maintain a balance at home. He relied on the small and medium-sized classes: small farmers and craftsmen. He succeeded in restoring the category of the Strattos for a short time. He promoted a policy that protected the interests of his subjects and the empire. In 1235 he issued a decree asking his subjects to be content with what the Romans’ hands and lands produced and to give up imports. He stated in the edict that Nicean gold was not to strengthen the power of the Venetians. In 1240 they offered a privileged position to the merchants of Pisa, which was allied to Frederick II. He also took charge of rebuilding the fleet, aware that the Venetian fleet was defending Constantinople. He encouraged activity in this area and set up the Smyrna shipyard.
Externally, he set himself the goal of retaking Constantinople. He succeeds in stabilising the situation in the East by concluding peace with the Seljuks. He turns his attention to Constantinople and the Balkan Peninsula. Ends Latin rule in Asia Minor. Reaches as far as the Bosphorus Strait, then crosses into the Balkan Peninsula. Enters into an alliance with the Bulgarian Tsar, John Asan II in 1235, through a marriage between John Asan’s son and his daughter Vatatzes.
Together they besiege Constantinople which does not last very long. Disagreements arise between the two allies and the siege is lifted.
In the following period he manages to defeat the Despot of Epirus, who becomes a vassal of the Nicene emperor. He recaptures the territories of the southern Balkan Peninsula, reaching as far as the Hemus Mountains. His actions are also facilitated by the disappearance of John Asan II, 1241.
When Jonah III died, the Nicene territories surrounded the Latin Empire on all sides. John’s successor, Theodore II Lascaris had a short reign (1254-1258) as he suffered from epilepsy. But he eventually succeeded in waging two campaigns against Bulgaria and consolidated the Nicene rule in that region. His early death brought a 6-year-old John IV to the throne in 1256.
The regency included Theodore III Lascaris’ confidant, Georgios Muzalon. Shortly after Theodore’s death, there was a reaction from the Nicean aristocracy, deeply dissatisfied with the Lascaris dynasty’s abolition of their privileges and their marginalisation in the running of the state.
The regency was overthrown and Geogios Muzalon was assassinated, the revolt being led by Mikhail Paleologus. He didn’t oust the legitimate emperor, but he rose very quickly up the hierarchy. He convinces Patriarch Arsenios that the best way to protect the minor’s throne is to crown him as co-emperor. At the beginning of 1259, Michael VIII was in a difficult and delicate situation. He was aware that to bring his own dynasty to power he needed a major success. This became his declared goal: the recapture of Constantinople.
He wins victories over the Latin armies gathered in 1259 at Pelagonia. But another failed siege of Constantinople in 1260 showed the emperor that he needed a much stronger fleet than the Nicene fleet to oppose the Venetian one. He begins to look for allies. The best ally was Genoa, which was unhappy that Venice controlled the straits and its ships had no access to the Black Sea, attracted by the prospects of Pontic trade.
In 1261 the Empire of Nicaea and Genoa sign the Treaty of Nymphaion. Basil grants gifts to the Genoese: 500 hyperperios and to the Archbishop of Genoa 60 hyperperios and grants the Genoese freedom of trade. For the first time, the Genoese had their own eternal jurisdiction. All enemies of the Genoese were to be excluded from the Byzantine market, except Pisa.
They were promised their old possessions in Constantinople, as well as the Venetian quarter of Constantinople, if they would send quick and effective help to recapture the city. The Genoese could gather goods, grain from the empire and sell them freely. In addition, only Genoese and Pisans were allowed to trade in the Pontic Basin. They were forbidden to sell gold and silver, as they could not take gold and silver out of the empire without the emperor’s permission. At the end of the treaty, Byzantine merchants were also granted privileges, with the right to go to Genoese territories to trade. The Byzantines did not need the help of the Genoese in retaking Constantinople.
In the summer of 1261 a happy situation occurred. A Nicean army passes under the walls of Constantinople, and the Greeks tell them that the Venetian fleet was not in the city. The Negean fleet immediately enters the city. The last emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin II, flees. The city is recaptured.
The treaty between Nicaea and Genoa was at the origin of the decline of the empire, as it became an appendage of the economy of Italian cities. Genoese merchants were gaining considerable customs advantages unlike Byzantine merchants. In the middle of the 14th century, the Genoese settled in the Pera district. From Andronicus II they also received the right to fortify it. Gradually, the Genoese succeeded in attracting most of the traffic through the straits.
In the middle of the 14th century, Nicephor Gregoras says that the Genoese earned 200,000 hyperperis annually from customs duties, the Byzantines barely 30,000. The Byzantine state, which was increasingly dependent on the Italians for grain supplies, was also faced with a food crisis as it was given the right to collect grain. Byzantine emperors had to buy grain from them. Food was scarce and sold at prices the Byzantines could not afford. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Athanasius III sent two memorials to the emperor complaining that not only were the Italians taking their gold and silver, but worse, they were selling wheat that had spoiled or been mixed with straw.
The Treaty of 1261 was the origin of a real competition between Genoa and Venice. Four Venetian-Genovese wars took place between the mid-13th century and the end of the 14th century. For the most part, it was on Byzantine territory that the confrontation between the two took place. And it was the Byzantine Empire that paid the price. The sums Byzantium allocated to winning and maintaining alliances in the West were increasing. Andronicus could no longer maintain his fleet, with Byzantine sailors ready to enter the service of Italian cities or the Turks. By the beginning of the 14th century, in the first two decades, the Byzantines controlled only a few cities in Asia Minor, Nicomedia and Nicaea, near Constantinople. In the 14th century, three wars were fought in the Byzantine Empire in which each side had either Genoese or Venetian republics as allies.
In 1391, the throne was taken over by Manuel II Paleologos. Meanwhile, the Ottomans were expanding. Manuel II came into conflict with the Bayezids and for 8 years, from 1394 to 1402, Constantinople was under Ottoman blockade. In 1422, Murad II unsuccessfully besieged Constantinople and occupied Salonika. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople. The last Byzantine remnants to survive for a few more years were the Empire of Trapezunt (liquidated in August 1461) in northern Asia Minor and the Despotate of Morea in the Peloponnese (liquidated in May 1460).
The Byzantine Empire (the Eastern Roman Empire) survived for eleven centuries almost solely on the virtues of its imperial constitution and administration. Derived from Latin institutions, Byzantine institutions have evolved, always adapting to new conditions. As the first great state (like Armenia before it) to base its political existence on Christian principles, Byzantium has always upheld the idea of its providential mission: the Empire is an emanation of the divine will and the emperor is God’s chosen one and his counterpart on earth; as such, his power is (de jure) absolute, since it has a divine character.
The Christian religion was a fundamental component of the Eastern Roman Empire. Only the synthesis of Hellenistic culture and Christian religion with the Roman state structure allowed the formation of the historical phenomenon known as the Byzantine Empire. As early as the 16th century. In the 3rd century Aurelian had brought from Syria the Eastern ideal of a sacred monarchy and established a kind of solar monotheism, the religion of Sol invictus, as the official cult of the Empire. This solar theism was the religion of the house of Constantine and paved the way for the acceptance of Christianity. The Holy Roman Empire, Sancta Respublica Romana, was not the creation of Charles the Great, but of Constantine and Theodosius. With sec. V it became a true theocracy and the emperor a kind of priest-king.
In the 3rd century, under Diocletian, who carried the principle of monarchical absolutism to its last consequences, the imperial cult had made the emperor a sacred figure, worshipped according to the rites of the Eastern courts.
Constantine, a follower of the Eastern cult of the Sun, Christianized and baptized into the Arian cult only in the last days of his life, issued the “Edict of Milan” in 313. In fact, Constantine had only recognised and approved in 313 the ordinance issued in the East at Nicomedia (now Izmit, Turkey) by Emperor Licinius in 312, which in turn repeated the edict of tolerance issued by Galerius (Diocletian’s successor in the West) (311). The edicts of toleration of Christians, then the adoption of Christianity as the state religion (by Theodosius I in 392), were measures dictated by precise political reasons: in the heteroclite multitude of peoples in the Empire, religion was an effective unifying factor. At first, this religion had been that of the Sun god; but when the majority of the population in the most important and richest regions – Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt – had turned to Christianity, it was natural that this new religion should become the state religion, and that the emperor should be at the same time the political and religious head of the Empire. As such, his residence would be the ‘Sacred Palace’, when he died he would be buried in a Christian church, and he and his empress would sometimes be declared Christian saints, as happened with Constantine and his mother Helena.
The coronation of the emperor was the religious form of establishing his authority as God’s earthly successor. As Roman emperor, he remains the legislator and supreme commander of the army; as a Basil, he is, like the Eastern monarchs, an autocrat; and as head of a Christian empire, he is God’s representative, an isapostolos (the title given to Constantine by the First Council of Nicaea), i.e. equal in rank to the apostles. Byzantine jurists recognised the absolute authority of the emperor’s will. According to this doctrine, any offence against the emperor was considered sacrilege; and rebellion against his authority was punishable by excommunication.
Consequently, a law regulating the succession to the throne did not exist and could not have existed, because the very will of Providence, necessary and sufficient, made it absolutely superfluous. There was no royal family in whose bosom the right of succession could be limited. Even candidates of the lowest social condition could become emperors. Emperors Justin I and Basil I had been simple peasants; Leo V and Michael II, squires; Phocas, a simple soldier; and Leo the Isaurian, a humble craftsman. And even if it was an usurper by an act of violence, the only condition was that a pretender to the throne had to be acclaimed by the Senate, the army and the people of Constantinople; in which case, even an usurper became “the chosen of God”, for the will of the divinity was expressed precisely by this choice, by these acclamations. Of the 109 emperors Byzantium has had, only 42 ended well; 12 were forced to abdicate, 20 died violent deaths, 12 were imprisoned or locked up in a monastery, 3 were left to starve, and 18 were mutilated (according to Louis Bréhier, 65 Byzantine emperors were dethroned, of whom 41 were assassinated, 8 fell on the battlefield and only 39 died a natural death).
The emperor could associate one of his sons with his reign, giving him the title of co-emperor and successor, crowning him with the imperial crown, as had Leo II, who had crowned his son (the future emperor Constantine V) when he was barely two years old. Anna Comnena writes that, a few days after she was born, ‘my parents also honoured me with the imperial crown and diadem’. Thanks to this mechanism for ensuring continuity of succession, Byzantium had only four dynasties for five centuries (4th-9th). The empire could have had as many as five associates in the reign: in the 4th and 5th centuries, the empire had a total of five dynasties. In the 10th century, Roman II Lecapenos, reigning with Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, proclaimed three of his sons emperors (and the fourth, usurping the authority of the Church in favour of state power, appointed him Patriarch of Constantinople). It should be noted, however, that the authority of a principal emperor always prevailed. A daughter, sister or widow of an emperor could also succeed the deceased and even pass on the right to rule to their spouses. In the 16th cent. In the 11th century, Empress Zoe, daughter of Constantine VIII, after her father’s death, awarded the imperial crown to each of the three men she married. In the 8th and 9th centuries, after the death of their parents, two princesses, Irena and Theodora, occupied the throne of the Empire without marrying.
The investiture ceremony was the first act of official recognition of the new emperor; it consisted of the elevation of the elected emperor on the shield (held, in a later period, not by soldiers, but by the patriarch and high dignitaries of the Empire) – a gesture that recalled the military origin of the imperial institution. But the essential ceremony, which emphasised and proclaimed the fundamentally religious character of imperial authority, was the religious coronation: in the Cathedral of Saint Sophia, the Patriarch of Constantinople blessed his hlamide and purple shoes, the insignia of imperial dignity, anointed him, placed the crown on his head and gave him the holy communion.
The Emperor’s wife was also crowned, but in a ceremony held at the Palace in the presence of the Patriarch and high dignitaries. The empress was honoured: her effigy appeared on coins, she attended ceremonies and processions (but only from the 11th century onwards), she was sworn in by hierarchs, senators and provincial governors alongside the emperor, she received ambassadors and senators, and she kept an official correspondence. As regent of her youngest son, the empress exercised her power effectively and autocratically. From the 16th cent. From the 10th century, for political reasons, marriages with foreign princesses became increasingly common. For the same reasons, marriages of Byzantine princesses to foreign emperors, kings or princes are also common.
The imperial cult became a true religion in Byzantium: with its own sanctuary in the “Sacred Palace”, the main residence of the Byzantine emperors, including a complex of chapels and oratories, and with ceremonies of a religious solemnity. A profound silence, ritual gestures, prayers, rhythmic acclamations, obligatory prostration, kissing of the hand and shoes of the emperor, who trod only on a purple carpet, his hand not to be profaned by contact with the hand of a common mortal, and before whom the one received in audience was led and supported by two dignitaries of the court. The ceremonies at the palace, codified in specific treatises, took the form of liturgies, religious services involving sumptuous vestments of different colours (varying according to the nature of the ceremony), solemn movements and gestures, music and songs, candles, censers, incense smoke, rhythmic and dialogued acclamations whose text glorified victories and exalted the quasi-divine greatness of the emperor: a ritual which transmitted many elements of the liturgy to the Orthodox Church. The Eastern Church did not introduce candles and incense smoke into the divine service until the 16th century. Liturgical vestments, imitating the imperial hlamide, were also introduced under the influence of palace ceremonies in the 5th and 6th centuries. There was also a calendar of imperial feasts, analogous to the religious calendar, but these were not confused with the feasts established by the Church. Even religious feasts were celebrated at the palace independently and before being celebrated in churches. Imperial audiences, the reception of foreign ambassadors, processions with the whole procession of high dignitaries, banquets ending with feasts, the funeral of a basileus, everything was of an impressive pomp, following the apotheosis of the emperor.
Imperial worship also referred to the emperor’s effigies, portraits, busts and statues. In the 14th century, among the icons of saints carried in processions was a portrait of the basilisk. It also had a legal significance of authority: the presence of the emperor’s portrait gave legal value to the public acts that had to be performed before them: oaths, administrative decisions, court decisions. The obligation to venerate images of the emperor imposed precise rules for the portrayal of his sacred person. Often the character of imperial iconography, the golden nimbus, the majestic attitude, the allegorical figures, the triumphal setting, the representation of the imperial court with its pomp, the Christian symbols, primarily the sign of the cross, appearing in portraits of the emperor and in solemn scenes of court painting, are identical to those of religious iconography. In iconography, too, the Eastern Church drew inspiration from the models of imperial pomp.
Byzantine political doctrine thus presented the emperor as an earthly deity; as such, his prerogatives extended into the life of the Church. But the emperor’s most important function was administrative, legislative and judicial. As supreme legislator and judge, his will had the force of law. In the exercise of this function, the sovereign was limited only by one force: the awareness of tradition, of respect for legal traditions, of Roman law.
In fact, from Constantine the Great onwards, the emperor ruled through a political-administrative apparatus with precise powers. The most important figure after the emperor was the praefectus praetori, who had the power to control and dispose of all areas of economic life. The emperor had supreme command of the army, under whom there was (until the beginning of the 7th century) a magister militum for the troops in the West and another for those in the East. Under the emperor, four ministers directed domestic and foreign policy. The preeminent position was held by the magister officiorum, head of protocol, foreign relations, political police and commander of the palace guard. “A ‘minister of justice’, quaestor sacri palatii, was in charge of preparing imperial laws and ordinances; a ‘minister of finance’ (comes sacrarum largitionum) administered the money tribute and regulated the duties of the Empire (payment of troops’ pay and civil servants’ salaries, external disbursements on the basis of stipulated agreements). A second ‘minister of finance’ (comes rerum privatarum) administered the enormous revenues received by the emperor from imperial goods and funds, from which he paid the emperor’s private troops, the building work, the games offered to the people, the reception of foreign ambassadors, the maintenance of the court staff, etc.; huge funds, because each emperor was heir to the private goods of his predecessor.
An institution of great importance was the consistorium, the imperial council. Unlike the old consilium principis, it held regular meetings and its members (comites) remained the same, each dealing with a particular kind of well-defined business. Proposals brought before the consistorium were prepared in advance by certain committees, which studied them. Very soon these committees became the ‘Civil House’, the emperor’s personal chancellery, called the cubiculum, because it worked in a private office (in Latin cubiculum) in the imperial palace (its members were called cubicularii). The private chancellery became a more important organ than the consistorum. Meetings of the consistorium were held by its members, even the highest dignitaries, standing (for the emperor demanded reverence from all.
The Senate, on the other hand, never had the authority and prestige of the Senate in Rome; its powers remained basically the same, but often limited. As a consultative body, the Senate (synkletos) prepared draft laws and could be invited by the emperor to give its opinion on important matters of state; as a political assembly, it ratified the election of the new emperor by the army and the people; it was also responsible for supplying the capital, in this case presided over by the prefect, and for public education. Around 900 its legislative and administrative powers were abolished.
The number of Senate members has been steadily increasing. As few senators had left Rome after the founding of the new capital, Emperor Constantine appointed over 300 senators from the eastern part of the Empire; his successor raised the number to 2,000. After the Nika rebellion of 532, in which senators had also been involved (and their property confiscated), Justinian reformed the Senate: all those who held high state office automatically became members, as well as wealthy landowners. In the cent. In the 11th century merchants and craftsmen joined the Senate, so that by the reign of Alexios I the number of members of the senatorial order had passed 10 000. Pensions and gratuities were granted once a year. The emperors promised to heed the decisions of the Senate, but this promise was never kept. Soon to become an anachronism, the institution survived until the end of the Empire.
The Byzantine state differed from other medieval states in its strong administrative centralization, being the first centralized state and the only one until the 16th century. 13TH CENTURY.
The administration reported directly to the emperor, as did the judiciary, the finances, the army and the Church. All state officials were subordinate to him, and the entire work of the Empire was driven by the Sacred Palace. Senior civil and military officials were honoured by the emperor with honorary titles (which included certain privileges) in addition to and preceding their respective offices. In some cases the titles granted did not carry actual duties; even in this case the honorary title gave entitlement (at least after the 9th century) to a pension. But neither actual offices nor honorary titles were hereditary, but always conferred by the emperor ad personam. The offices were remunerated with annual salaries and gifts from the basilisk on certain occasions. The main duty of any official was to carry out the emperor’s decisions or to see that they were carried out. From the 16th century onwards. From the 6th century onwards, in some provinces, high dignitaries held supreme civil and military authority at the same time. This was the situation of the strategist in the themelor system established in the 6th century. The exarch was the full deputy of the emperor after the establishment (at the end of the 6th century) of the two exarchates in Italy (based in Ravenna) and Africa (in Carthage).
In the “Sacred Palace” the Emperor had entrusted the government of the Empire to high officials, a kind of “ministers”, headed by the four logothets. The first was the logothete of the drom (logothetes tou drómou), the head of the post office, who became (and since the 16th century has been) the logothete of the drom (logothetes tou drómou). The ‘logothete of the herds’, the administrator of the domains, herds and flocks of the Empire. Other dignitaries were in charge of the offices of the central administration (sacellarii), the emperor’s personal estate (sakelion), the financial administration (chartularios), the manufactories and arsenals (eidikos). The commander-in-chief of the army was the Domestic of the Scholelor, the Emperor’s personal guard corps, whose title, since the 16th century, has been the Emperor’s personal guard. The title of the 11th century was Grand Domestic (megas doméstikos). The first admiral of the navy was, until the 11th century, the “Megas domestikos”. Drongar of the fleet (later replaced by megadux). The other high dignitaries were: protospatharios, who carried the emperor’s sword at ceremonies; protovestiarios, the administrator of the emperor’s personal wardrobe and private treasury; protostratorios, the administrator of the basile’s stables; parakimomenos, the head of the eunuchs, night watchman and often the emperor’s confidant; eparch, the prefect of the capital, who was responsible for feeding the population, managing the police, supervising the craftsmen’s associations, etc.
Eunuchs were particularly favoured in the life of the palace, in the administration and generally in positions of leadership. Very few such positions were forbidden to them, for example that of prefect of the capital or strategist of a theme. Great commanders of the Byzantine army (many logothets and a number of patriarchs of Constantinople were also eunuchs. A eunuch could not aspire to the crown of the Empire, nor, of course, could he pass on hereditary rights. In fact, the use of eunuchs and the positions of leadership entrusted to them was Byzantium’s main weapon against the feudal tendency to concentrate power in the hands of a hereditary nobility, a tendency which caused so much unrest in the West. On the other hand, the eunuchs never proved to be morally or intellectually inferior to their unborn peers. And castration was not regarded as a disgrace; parents of the noblest families mutilated their children, knowing that it helped them to make a brilliant career; and even some emperors resorted to such an act. Niketas, the son of Michael I, was castrated and yet became Patriarch of Constantinople. Romanos I castrated not only his illegitimate son who then, as Grand Chamberlain, ruled the Empire for several decades, but also one of his legitimate sons, who then became patriarch: for, all things being equal, eunuchs had priority. In the middle classes, mutilations were rarer; but a castrated doctor was able to gain a larger clientele, as he could also profess in nuns’ convents and women’s hospitals.
All officials of all ranks were removable, appointed or dismissed by the Emperor, to whom they had to swear an oath of allegiance. This obligation was also imposed on the patriarch and high priests. The system for recruiting officials, almost unchanged over the centuries, was based on a fairly difficult examination; candidates were required to have not so much a specialist training as a general knowledge of epistology, rhetoric, history, literature and philosophy, and especially law. Their training was provided by state and private secondary and higher schools. In principle, anyone had access to an administrative career; in practice, however, since the 17th century, the profession has been open to all. In practice, however, the families of the great landowners also took over the highest positions, and from the 6th century onwards. From the 12th century onwards, high administrative posts were held by friends of emperors or members of their families.
Functions could also be purchased. Justinian suppressed such improprieties, but his successors failed to suppress them. In order to curb them, Leo VI set a tariff for them; venality flourished particularly under the Paleologi. Moreover, the evil could not even be eradicated: incompetence had become the norm, since specialist training was only required of lawyers, doctors and teachers.
The Byzantine economy was one of the most advanced in the European Mediterranean area for many centuries. Europe, in particular, did not overtake the Byzantine economy until the 16th century. 11TH-13TH CENTURIES. Constantinople was the key centre in the network of extensive trade routes throughout Eurasia and North Africa. By the 6th century, the Byzantine economy had prospered.
Justinian’s plague and the Islamic conquests contributed to decline and stagnation. The Isaurian reforms and repopulation under Emperor Constantine V, public works and taxes imposed marked the beginning of the economic revival which continued until 1204 despite the loss of the eastern provinces. In the 10th-12th centuries, the Byzantine Empire projected its image as a luxurious civilisation where foreign travellers were impressed by the wealth accumulated in the capital.
The Fourth Crusade resulted from the disruption of Byzantine production and the commercial supremacy of Western Europe, leading to the catastrophe of 1204. The Palaeologan Dynasty attempted to revitalise the economy, but Late Byzantium could not recover its control of domestic and foreign economic forces. It lost its former influence in the ways of trade and the price mechanism. It loses control over precious metals and coin production.
One of the economic mainstays of Byzantium was maritime trade. Textiles were imported, like silk from Egypt, which later began to be produced in Bulgaria and the West. The state controlled internal and external trade, with a monopoly on the circulation of money.
The Byzantine state exercised formal control over interest rates and set the parameters of guild and corporate activity. The emperor and officials intervened in times of crisis to secure supplies for the capital and keep grain prices down. Finally, the state collected part of the surplus money from taxes and put it back into circulation, and it was redistributed as salaries to state officials or invested in public works. The state exercised monopolies in other important sectors of the economy.
Currency was the basic economic form in Byzantium, although there was also credit. The Byzantine Empire created a sustainable monetary system for more than a thousand years, from Constantine I to 1453, thanks to its relative flexibility. Currency was both a product and an instrument of a complex and developed financial and fiscal organisation.
The first features of the administrative organisation of money production were first established by Diocletian and Constantine until the beginning of the 7th century. Throughout Byzantine history, the role of overseeing mints belonged to the Emperor; thus, the state controlled the money supply. However, the emperor and his government were not always able to conduct monetary policy in the modern sense of the term.
At the creation of the Byzantine monetary system in 312, the gold coin – solidus – was put into circulation, a coin whose nominal value was equal to its intrinsic value, as proved by the Theodosian Code. Solidus became highly prized and stable means of storing and transferring values were implemented. The weight and fineness of the coins were united by another element: the authenticity of the stamp, which served to guarantee the authenticity of the other two. There was a fiduciary bronze coin which constituted the second specific feature of the monetary system. In the 10th-11th centuries, monetary circulation underwent a profound transformation, followed by a crisis. The reform of Alexios I Comnen put an end to this crisis by restoring a gold coin with a high fineness, the hyperpyron , and creating a new coinage system that lasted for about two centuries.
In 1304 the Basilikon was introduced, a pure silver coin modelled after the Venetian ducat, which marked the abandonment of Comnenian structures under the influence of Western models. The system that began in 1367 was built around the stavraton , another heavy silver coin , equivalent to twice the fine metal weight of the last hyperpyron coin . By the end of the 12th century, especially from 1204, the political fragmentation of the empire led to the creation of different coins ( for example, in Trapezunt in 1222, in Bulgaria in 1218, and in Serbia in 1228) . Venetian coins soon entered monetary circulation in Byzantium.
One of the economic foundations of the empire was trade. Constantinople lies at the intersection of the east-west and north-south trade routes. Trebiozond was an important port in eastern trade. The exact routes varied over the years depending on wars and the political situation. Imports and exports were uniformly taxed at 10%.
Grains and silk were two of the most important commodities for the empire. The Arab invasion of Egypt and Syria affected the capital’s grain trade and supply. As the population grew in the 9th-10th centuries, the demand for grain increased. There was a functioning market for grain in Constantinople, but it was not fully regulated.
Silk has been used by the state, both as a means of payment and in diplomacy. Raw silk was bought from China and was processed into fine brocades and woven from gilt cloth , sold at high prices . Later, silkworms were smuggled into the empire and the silk trade became less important on land. After Justinian I established a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of silk, only imperial factories processed silk and sold it only to authorised buyers.
The other goods traded were: oil, wine, salt, fish, meat, vegetables, other foodstuffs, wood, wax, ceramics, and textiles. Luxury items such as silks, perfumes and spices were also important. The slave trade is attested , both on behalf of the state, and, by private individuals. International trade was practiced not only in Constantinople, which was until the end of the 12th century an important centre of eastern luxury trade, but also in other cities that served as inter-regional and international trading centres, such as Thessaloniki and Trebizond. Textiles must have been by far the most important item. The empire also traded through Venice (as long as it was part of the empire): salt, wood, iron, and slaves , as luxury goods . In 992, Basil II concluded a treaty with Pietro Orseolo II to regulate customs duties.Between the 11th and 12th centuries, the empire had privileged terms of trade with Venice, Genoa and Pisa. The Fourth Crusade and Venetian domination of trade in the area created new conditions. In 1261, the Genoese received generous customs privileges. .
The Paleologos tried to revive the economy, and to restore traditional forms of political supervision and economic guidance. The late Byzantine state was unable to gain full control of external or internal economic forces. Gradually, the state lost influence over trade patterns and price mechanisms, and control over the flow of precious metals and, according to some scholars, even the coinage of coins. Late Byzantine officials had to implement a regulatory policy , using state prerogatives in their private affairs. Private commercial activity was affected by crises in foreign policy as well as by the internal erosion of Byzantium.
The rural economy developed slowly in the 8th-14th centuries. Areas close to the sea were populated by cereal crops, vineyards, and olive groves (livestock farming was practised in the Balkans and Asia Minor), relatively well favoured, and seem to have played an important role in the development of the Byzantine economy. Peasant tools have been changed over the centuries, and have remained rudimentary, resulting in a low productivity ratio . However, the techniques, and tools were successfully adapted to the environment.
Between the 7th and 12th centuries, the social organization of production was arranged around two poles: the large estate and the small peasant property. The social structure of peasant property was the form of organisation best adapted to the uncertain conditions.
The distinction between tenant and tenant farmer ( paroikos ) weakened once plots owned by paroikoi were considered hereditary, attaining the status of owners. From the 10th century onwards, the dynatoi assumed the dominant role that had previously been held by the villages. By the beginning of the 14th century, as a result of Macedonian rural policy, an almost unbroken network of estates was formed, replacing the former network of communes. Villages that had the status of communes in the 10th century became tax estates, after which they were ceded to a monastery or an aristocrat.
The population was dense in the 6th century but declined in the 7th-8th centuries. Epidemics (such as the plague of 541
The conquest of the empire by the Crusaders in 1204 and the subsequent division of Byzantine territories affected the agrarian economy . The progressive impoverishment of the peasantry led to a decline in demand and a concentration of resources in the hands of large landowners.
Population expansion came to an end during the 14th century, during which a demographic decline occurred. Aristocrats lost their fortunes, and eventually there was a concentration of property in the hands of the large and privileged monasteries in Macedonia.
The empire, just emerging from the crisis following the reforms, was on the verge of profound transformations: rigorous centralisation and expansion of the role of the state. Reforms were implemented in the organisation of production, taxation and finance.
Small producers and free peasants abandoned their land due to excessive taxation and internal political anarchy. Cultivated land declined and more and more vast tracts were deserted. In order to make use of the abandoned land, the state granted small producers tax exemptions, property rights in return for royalties and the right to enlarge their own fields to be worked by slaves. The colonists were tied to the land by the decree of 332, but retained their legal freedom. In the city, craftsmen and merchants were integrated into “collegia” (corporations), bound to their trades and made responsible for their property and the conduct of their business.
During the reign of Emperor Diocletian, a dissociation was made between the jugum
While the process of ruralization has intensified in the West, reforms in the East have halted the effects of the crisis. The economy has been boosted by agricultural performance. Insecurity and excessive taxation have been at the root of the consolidation of the large sector and the expansion of patronage.
The villa-large estate prospered and expanded at the expense of small peasant estates. It became an economic and administrative unit, endowed with wide immunities. Many peasants, settlers and slaves found refuge on the great estate to escape the tax agents and shelter from the climate of insecurity. They gave up their property in exchange for protection, as the public authorities could no longer offer them security.
Even though the edicts prohibited patronage, despite the severe punishments, they had no effect in the face of the irresistible msicarii in society. A class of great landlords was formed, vying for power in the provinces of the Constantinopolitan administration. Small free peasant property was maintained in all the provinces of the late Roman Empire, especially in the high plateaus of the Balkans and Asia Minor where the aristocracy could not expand.
At the top of the hierarchy were the landed aristocracy, endowed with huge estates that they could expand. They took advantage of social and political unrest in the empire. They had economic and political power and held positions in the central and provincial administrations, the senate and the army. The aristocracy included the old landed gentry – senatorial aristocrats, ecclesiastical, municipal and imperial landowners, who owned huge estates with annual incomes of 500-600 pounds of gold. In the absence of servile labour, land was leased and thus they acquired large fortunes.
Magnus of Syria, a former military commander, customs administrator and administrator of two divine houses, became master of estates that brought him an annual income of 1000 pounds of gold. Members of the Appion family in Egypt held high positions in the imperial administration. Theodosius John Appion I was governor of the province of Arcadia, perfect of the praetorship. His son, Strategios Appion became magister officiorum and head of the imperial treasury under Justinian.Theodosius’s grandson received the consulship in 540 and served as tribune. The last Appion member mentioned in the Egyptian papyri was Strategios III Appion who lived in the 7th century. After the Persian invasion, the Appion family disappeared from the stage of history. The Appion family was the most important landowning family in Egypt, with estates divided into regions, administered by officials who formed a well-established body, apart from state agents. The receipts on expenses were valued at £178 per annum, and the money owed to the revenue was sent to Alexandria, without passing into the hands of the provincial officials, for the conveyances were accompanied by private soldiers and cashiers.
The producer structure was made up of slaves, settlers and free peasants. Slaves were used in craft workshops in the city, while in the countryside they were few in number. Free peasants were organised in free village communities and owned a plot of land which was fully and hereditarily owned. The colonists were the most numerous category, fed by elements from the ranks of both categories.
The Byzantine Empire lost the eastern provinces and the rich metropolises that were the pillars of the Mediterranean monetary economy to the Arabs, including the breadbasket of the empire-Egypt, and the Balkan territories after the settlement of the Slavs.
Reduced to Asia Minor, Constantinople and Thessalonica, the Byzantine Empire found a balance by shifting its economic centre of gravity from the eastern cities to the Anatolian agricultural provinces. The process of ruralization of society was the only solution for Byzantium to secure its existence. Asia Minor became the new granary of Constantinople, experiencing remarkable agricultural development and becoming the main factor of stability in the economic life of the state.
If previously, large aristocratic property exercised its unchallenged supremacy, now the empire was dominated by small free peasant property. The landed aristocracy had difficulty adapting to new economic and political conditions in a climate of insecurity caused by foreign invasions. The small peasant property of the Anatolian and Balkan plateaus was protected and revitalised by massive colonisation by Eastern and Slavic populations due to the awareness of imperial policy of fiscal and military interests.
The old aristocracy still held on in Asia Minor, in Paphlagonia-the Mycrasian coast of Pontus, like Philaret who owned 40 estates, 600 oxen, 12,000 sheep, 100 work teams, numerous slaves. The widow Danielis owned 80 fields, 3000 slaves and herds of cattle in Pelepones, one of the ways in which a new social category of rising landowners, referred to as “powerful” (dynatoi), was established.
Macedonian agrarian policy (922-1025)
In the years 922-1025, the emperors of the Macedonian dynasty fought to defend small free peasant estates against the dynatis (strongmen) of the aristocracy. The rise of the aristocracy resulted from the undermining , dissolution of rural communities and pressure from the dynati. Dynatii, high officials in the thematics, beneficiaries of the secularisation of monastic property following the iconoclastic crisis, became great lords of the estates. Leo VI, seeing no danger, lifted the old restrictions on military dynasties to acquire real estate. He repealed the right of pre-emption and hastened the decline of rural communities. Peasants thus fell under the dependence of lay and ecclesiastical dynasties and became paroikoi-vecini.
Roman Lecapenos takes note of the danger, knowing that small property was essential for paying taxes and fulfilling military duties. With an imperial diploma
In 934 a novel is issued supporting the small estate hit by the winter famine of 927-928. It forces the large landowners to dispose of their property, any transaction, donation or inheritance being annulled. Any property acquired at half price was returned without compensation. If the sale was at the full price, the peasant would get it back, but was obliged to return the amount received within 3 years. The agents of the dissolution processes within the peasant communities, high officials, were denounced for accumulating wealth and damaging the interests of the state. Roman’s successor, Constantine VIII, reinforced the provisions of his predecessor, setting the minimum value of military lots at 4 pounds for soldiers and 2 pounds for sailors, the limitation period being set at 40 years.
With the novel of 964, the offensive of the great monastic estates was stopped, by prohibiting new monastic settlements and the acquisition by other means by the church and monasteries of other new estates. The law prevented the entry of vassal inhabitants into monasteries. By the novel of 967, Nikephor I Phocas, from an aristocratic family, interrupted the policy of his predecessors and weakened the right of pre-emption. He granted the dynatis the right to purchase deserted property within the peasant community. Any alienation of stratified lots was forbidden, and those alienated were returned without compensation. Their value increased from 4 to 12 pounds. The aim was to create a heavy cavalry with more expensive weapons to face the enemy.
Macedonian anti-aristocratic legislation reached its peak under Basil II, who issued a radical novel in 996 defending peasant smallholdings and strata. He annulled the 40-year limitation period and thus any acquisition of landed property since 922 was declared void. Peasant properties were returned to their former owners without compensation. By the novel of 1002, the emperor reintroduced the reciprocity tax, whereby lay and ecclesiastical dynasties paid to the state the capitation and other taxes that the peasantry could not pay, resulting in protests.
Macedonian politics could not stop the big property offensive due to the contradictory nature, excessive taxation and reorientation of foreign policy. The stratified estates weakened, the masses of free peasants ruined, becoming easy prey for the powerful. Earlier measures were reversed under pressure from the landed aristocracy.
The Byzantine city in the 10th-11th centuries
After a period of decline, urban life is recovering according to the “Book of the Eparch”, which was originally attributed to Emperor Leo VI, a collection of rules and regulations, describing the life of craftsmen and merchants, guilds and guilds. Control over the trade roads was resumed. Trade was conducted to the West (along the Danube valley or through the Balkan Peninsula), to the North, to Russia on the Dnieper, to the Black Sea, and to the East, via the Silk Road, through the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. Small merchants and traders contributed to the Byzantine treasury by paying a tax of 10-18% of the value of goods. Eparch
The bishop had administrative and legal powers. He ensured public order, punished offences, supervised freed slaves, markets, shows, public events, banned individuals from entering the city, had an urban police force under his command, was responsible for the cleanliness of the city, and decorated it when the Emperor walked the streets or during official visits. It was considered the voice of the emperor, because through it the emperor spoke to the people. When the emperor was absent, the eparch ruled the capital. Production, sales, trades, corporations were under his control. He supervised the quality of the products, the raw materials, and prevented stocks from being built up to make large profits. He set market prices, decided on the import and export of goods, the opening of warehouses, offices and workshops, and settled serious deviations and discrepancies. It had a large auxiliary staff: the prefect’s chancellery, which had its own seal for correspondence, affixed to units of measure and weight, to ensure compliance with the rules. The personal corps led by legatharios, the eparch’s lieutenant, supervised the corporations, imports and exports, and foreign merchants. The maritime inspector controlled ships in the city’s ports.
Eparchs like Roman Argyros became emperors. At the end of the cent. In the 11th century, the power of the eparch declined, the powers were taken over by magistrates, and the Italian merchants settled from the 11th century onwards. The 12th-century Italic traders in the capital restricted the authority of the bishop.
At the head of the corporations were prostatai
Urban social structures
The structure was heterogeneous and hierarchical. At the top of the hierarchy was the senatorial aristocracy. Next came the townspeople, who played an economic role, made up of merchants, blacksmiths, workshop owners, registered in guilds to start their economic activity and approved by the eparchs. Craft workers worked in workshops in numbers of 2-3, bound to the employer by a fixed-term contract (which fixed the salary and obligations), paid 10-15 nomins per year. Slaves were employed in the imperial workshops, paid 30-50 nomis and provided with food.
The quality of the materials used, the purity of the gold and silver, the quality of the products in the workshops were checked. The production of luxury fabrics took place only in imperial workshops. There were numerous textile corporations: silk spinners, weavers, dyers, raw silk merchants, etc. Attempts were made to avoid a surplus of goods and regulations were imposed to ensure the city’s good supply in order to prevent a crisis and riots that could endanger the imperial throne. The centre of the capital was reserved for trade in luxury goods along Mese Street. Smelly goods were sold on the outskirts of the city, although only grocers were allowed to operate throughout the city. Units of measurement and weight were checked. Poor quality products, counterfeiting of coins or alteration of precious metals were punished. The sale of purple and jewellery outside the empire was forbidden. Economic activity was directed by the authorities for the benefit of the state and the population.
The Comnen Emperors, in order to solve their internal problems, resorted to a solution: the institution of the “care” pronoia. The state ceded a large number of taxpayers to a private individual so that, in exchange for the temporary and conditional concession, the private individual would perform military tasks for the state. The number of taxpayers ceded was calculated in order to reach the level of the pronoiar’s annual income from which to purchase military equipment and support his family. In the 13th century, the income was 60 hyperpers, falling to 10.
The emperors gave the veterans gifts of paracels, and then went on to distribute them widely to tailors and blacksmiths fit for battle. This enabled the state to provide the necessary military forces. This was not enough, and the state created military goods of the stratotic type, re-establishing the category of peasant-stratists.
After the conquest of Constantinople in 1204, the local Greek archons submitted to the Latin conquerors, on condition that their sons would respect the vow of vassalage and military service in exchange for the preservation of the pronunciation. Dependent peasant-peasants remained on their lots, dependent on Byzantine or Latin pronoarii. Greek archons could pass on their pronoia hereditarily.
In the Empire of Nicaea, military organization was based on the stratified goods and the proniary system. Many individuals obtained fishing grounds, vassals and mines in the form of pronoia, except that some pronoiars obtained their posotes from the pareci, others made it from taxes on fishing grounds, customs duties or from the proceeds of mines. The document “Form for the allocation of pareci to a pronoiar” was issued. After the recapture of Constantinople in 1261, Mikhail VIII generously rewarded those who supported him, aristocrats and soldiers, rewarded by the granting of hereditary pronoia or pronoia. From 1272 , mercenaries received their annual pay increased to 24 hyperpers per year, and pronoiarii received 36 hyperpers per year. Pronoia was a temporary possession, with a conditional character. If the stratiot could not perform his military duties, he could be punished and replaced by another stratiot. From the 13th century, Byzantium had been using foreign mercenaries, but during the Turkish penetration of Asia Minor, monastery property was distributed in the form of pronoia.
Relations between Byzantium, the Papacy and Charles the Great
From the reign of Emperor Justinian, the papal see came under the influence of the Byzantine emperors. Most popes were appointed by the emperors of Constantinople. When the papacy met with resistance, the Basilians did not hesitate to assert their control over the papacy. Pope Martin I, who occupied the papal chair in the 7th century without Constantinople’s approval, opposed the policies of the Byzantine emperors Heraclius and Constantine, who were trying to find a compromise between the Monophysites and the Orthodox. Constantine summoned Martin to Constantinople in 653, accusing him of treason and sentencing him to public ill-treatment. He then exiled him to Chersones, where he died shortly afterwards.
At the beginning of the 8th century, the papacy was given a favourable opportunity to escape from the tutelage of Byzantium. Constantinople was then ravaged by iconoclastic struggles. The Papacy sought an ally in Western Europe. That ally was to be Pepin the Short of today’s France. Pepin’s aim was to seize the Frankish throne and drive out the Merovingians. He was eventually crowned by Pope Stephen II after the papacy benefited from Frankish intervention in Italy. Pepin regained the territories of the former exarchate of Ravenna from the Longobards and entrusted them to the pope rather than the emperor of Constantinople. This act was the basis for the creation of the Papal State, which continued to exist until the mid-19th century.
In response, the Emperor of Constantinople protested and removed the dioceses of southern Italy and Illyricum from papal authority and placed them under the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The close relationship between the Frankish kingdom and the papal see was continued by Pepin’s son Charles the Great. Charles intervened in Italy at the request of the papacy, targeting the Longobard kingdom. In 774, Charles the Great conquered the Longobard Kingdom and proclaimed himself King of the Franks and Longobards. Charles continued his military actions in the Iberian Peninsula where he established the Mark of Catalonia. He then moved on to Pannonia where he defeated the Avars, and finally to Saxony where he subdued the Germans.
Charles proved himself a true defender of Christianity. He gave another boost to the papacy in 799 when Pope Leo III faced a revolt from the Roman population and aristocracy. After being thrown into prison, he asked Charles the Great for help. Charles intervened and restored the pope to the papal chair.
Meanwhile, Byzantium was facing its own internal problems caused by the iconoclastic crisis and the rise of the Bulgarian Khanate abroad. Constantine V was preoccupied during his first reign with problems on the eastern frontier. He led 9 campaigns against the innate, bringing it to the brink of collapse. But his death in 775 and the disappearance of Leo IV were to undermine Byzantine successes. There followed a period of regency by Irene, who took over the empire later, as the Bulgarian Khanate was rebuilding. In 778, Irina sent an army corps to Italy which was destroyed by the Frankish army.
In conclusion, according to Alquin’s letter, the throne of Constantinople was vacant because it was occupied by a woman and the papacy was going through a crisis. The only real power in the Christian world was the Frankish Kingdom, with Charles the Great considered the only hope of the Christian world, surpassing the spiritual power of the papacy and the temporal power of Constantinople.
On 25 December 800, Charles descended on Italy and was received with great pomp in Rome by Pope Leo III. Charles was taken by surprise according to some annals, being crowned by the pope as emperor. However, Charles was unhappy that it was the pope who put the crown on his head, whereas in Byzantium it was the emperor who crowned himself. Thus a conflict broke out between Charles and the Pope. Constantinople believed that what was happening in Italy was simply a revolt against imperial authority. The Byzantine emperors still considered Italy to be a territory belonging to Byzantium. For the papacy, the Carolingian Empire was the sole Roman Empire, with the pope insisting that the Frankish king, Charles the Great, take the title of Emperor of the Romans. Charles refused this title (later Louis the Pious accepted it).
Charles the Great saw imperial power as a dominion over several kingdoms. Charles’ title was Emperor Augustus and King of the Franks and Lombards. Charles sought recognition of his title as Emperor from Constantinople, then ruled by Empress Irina. The Byzantine chronicler Theophanes wrote of a possible marriage alliance between Charles the Great and Empress Irina, which would reunite the Western and Eastern empires. Such a proposed alliance was made between Charles the Great’s daughter and Constantine VI, but the engagement was broken off after Charles became upset because he was not invited to attend the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicaea. In 802, Irina was removed from the leadership of the empire, and the new emperor, Nikephoros I, steadfastly refused to recognise Charles’ imperial title.
Charles put pressure on Constantinople by attacking Byzantine cities in Dalmatia and besieging Venice. But in 812, as the conflict with the Bulgarian Khanate resumed, Mikhail I Rangabe, son-in-law and heir of Nikephoros I, sent a solie to Aachen recognising him as ‘Basil’ to Charles the Great. Eginhard claims that Emperor Charles was even called “brother” of the Emperor of Constantinople.
The Byzantine imperial title was changed to “Basil of the Romans”. With this title, the emperors of Constantinople wanted to demonstrate that they were the spiritual successors of the Caesars of antiquity and that the power of Charles the Great was limited and not universal like that of the Byzantine emperor. However, with the title of ‘brother’, Charles belonged to the family of princes.
After Charles’ death, the situation changed. Louis the Pious took over the title of Imperator Romanorum and was crowned by the Pope. The doctrinal conflict between Byzantium and the West continued until the demise of the Carolingian Empire. The conflict was to resume in the 10th century with Otto I when he was crowned by the pope as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Donatio Constantini:
The Papacy used the document “Donatio Constantini” to demonstrate that its ecclesiastical power was superior to imperial power and that the pope was the only one who could entrust imperial power, having authority over Italy and the western provinces. The Papacy claims the supremacy of Christianity, with the Pope considering himself head of the Christian Church over the other patriarchal sees of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria or Jerusalem. Reactions to the document have varied. Many claimed it was a forgery, like Emperor Otto III who demanded the burning of the document and the cutting off of the hand of the creator of the forged document. In the 13th century, the pontiffs ordered scenes from Donatio Constantini to be displayed on the walls of a church in Rome. Byzantium believed that the emperor of Constantinople was the descendant of the Roman emperors, supporting the idea that Emperor Constantine moved to Constantinople as Roman emperor.
Relations with Russia
In the 7th century, a Khazar state was established in the northpontic steppes, which controlled the steppe area of eastern Europe and prevailed over the Turko-Mongol tribal unions. The Khazars were also allies of the Byzantines, and their relations with the Greeks were intense. The Byzantines were supplied with grain from the Pontic Basin area.In the middle of the 9th century, the North Pontic formation founded by Rurik, according to Nestor’s chronicle, appeared in the North Pontic steppes.
German Byzantine historians, however, claim that the state was created by the Vagyans, while Russian historians claim that it was founded by the Slavs. The term “Russian” appeared in European and Muslim sources to designate the Scandinavian Kelps. The Varegs were merchants and later set about conquering territories.
Rurik’s son, Oleg, conquered Kiev and established the Kievan state with centres in Kiev and Novgorod. The Varegs represented Slavic tribes and patriarchal structures. Later, the Varegs were absorbed by the Slavs. Oleg then intended to develop Pontic trade, wanting to ensure the security of the artery linking the Baltic and Black Seas.
The Russians attacked Constantinople in 859-860 with 2000 ships, causing panic in the empire. The attack was repulsed by the Byzantines at the command of the city’s Patriarch, Photios, who ordered the use of Greek fire.
In the 10th century, Oleg launched another attack, ending with a treaty granting privileges to Russian merchants by Leo VI, the text of which is preserved in Nestor’s chronicle. The Russians received more extensive privileges than other merchants, were assured money to return to their homelands and could settle in the Byzantine capital for a year, except in winter.Oleg’s son, the chieftain Igor, tried to increase his trade privileges and besieged the capital in 941-944 to force the emperor’s hand. Roman Lecapenos renewed the privileges granted by Leo VI. Byzantine influences permeated Russian society. The Russians were Christianised.
In 945, the kingship was killed and his wife Olga ruled as regent on behalf of his son Sviatoslav. Olga, when she became a Christian, was baptised by the Patriarch of Constantinople himself. Her plans to Christianize the Russian lands were thwarted by her son.
Sviatoslav enlarged the territory of the Russian state after organizing campaigns against the Khazars. Sviatoslav then tried to settle south of the Danube, but after being defeated in 971 by John I Tzimiskes, he was forced to leave the Balkans, and in 972 he was assassinated by the Pechenegs.
He was succeeded by Vladimir, his illegitimate son, who in 980, took over the leadership of the Russian state, which he ruled until 1015. Vladimir supported Basil II in suppressing Byzantine aristocratic revolts. He received the hand of the emperor’s sister, Anna Porfyrogeneta after she lobbied for the fortress of Chersones, where the wedding was to take place and the construction of the church of St John was to begin. A number of icons and liturgical vessels arrived in Russia through Ana. In 988 she had contacts with the Holy Roman Empire, the Moslem Khazars and the Muslim Bulgarians on the Volga, and eventually became a Christian of the Orthodox rite. Vladimir ordered the destruction of pagan idols and initiated a series of baptisms of the population at the Dnieper. Russia entered the Byzantine sphere of influence, consolidating the supremacy of the Byzantine Orthodox Patriarchate in Eastern Europe.
During the reign of Emperor Constantine Monomachus there were tensions after the Russians launched another expedition to conquer the Byzantine capital. Relations were generally friendly. Many Byzantine architects left for Russia. The Kievean Khanate became an Orthodox state, and after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the Russian tsars considered themselves heirs and continuators of Byzantine civilisation, with Ivan the Terrible himself taking over the title of Byzantine emperor.
Relations with the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation
During the Macedonian dynasty, in the West, the descendants of Charles the Great abandoned his concept, even from the time of Louis the Pious, and took the title of Emperors of the Romans, even trying to conquer the Byzantine territories in Italy. It is true that there were moments of rapprochement in the time of Basil I Macedonian, when the Byzantines intervened in Italy to recover the territories conquered by the Arabs in the south of the Peninsula where they established their own emirate at Bari.
A Byzantine fleet with the help of Louis II reoccupied the fortress of Bari in 871 and the Arab emirate was dismantled. However, this rapprochement did not last long as the two protagonists once again entered into a conflict of political doctrine over the title of Roman emperor. At the same time, Longobard princes, in many cases allies of the Byzantine state, began to play an increasingly important role in Italy, alongside Pope John VIII, who was disillusioned with Louis III’s successor, Charles the Pious. The last years of Basil I Macedonian’s reign are marked by major campaigns in Italy.
Also in sec. In the 10th century, the papacy moved closer to the Byzantine state, as Arab pressure grew (in 902, the Arabs conquered the whole of Sicily). In this context, Pope John X organised a “Christian crusade” against the Arabs in southern Italy, with the support of the Byzantine fleet.
In the following decades, the Romano-German Empire rose in the West, first under Henry the Bold, and then under Otto the Great, who ruled from 937-973. Otto the Great linked his name to the Hungarian victory at Lechfeld in 955, after which he came to the aid of Pope John XII, defeating the Longobards in Italy. These actions were decisive moments in his coronation as emperor. The event took place in Rome in February 962, with Otto being crowned by Pope John XII, with whom he would come into conflict shortly afterwards (John XII was characterised as a lecher, having countless mistresses and it is even said that at one point, being drunk, he appointed one of his grooms as a deacon, just as the pope unjustifiably appointed a 10-year-old boy as a bishop). Pope John VII died in 964 after being initially removed from the papal chair, and according to Liutprand, Pope John VII was killed by the devil.
Otto the Great took the title “IMPERATOR FRANCORUM”, and his investiture bulla read “INOVATIUM IMPERII FRANCORUM”. After his coronation, Otto the Great sent a first message to Constantinople, asking the emperor to recognise his imperial title. His request was firmly rejected, and under these circumstances, Otto pressed the Byzantine territories by attacking the fortress of Bari, but without success. Having also joined his son Otto II to the kingship, Otto the Great sent a soldier led by Liutprand of Cremona, this time demanding not only recognition of his imperial title but also the hand of the porphyrogenic Anne for Otto II.
Emperor Nicephor II Phocas made the demands conditional on the relinquishment of rights to the cities of Ravenna and Rome. Basically, Nicephor refuses the German Emperor’s demands in a more veiled form, as Otto could not renounce these rights. In 969, John I Tzimiskes, whose attention was focused on the Balkan Peninsula as well as the East, accepted the marriage of one of his nieces Theophano to Otto II and the recognition of Otto the Great as “BASIL OF THE ALAMANS”. It is true that Theophano was not a porphyrogenet, but Otto I accepts the alliance and renounces his claim to the southern Italian peninsula.
Otto II does not have a very long reign. He reigned until 982 and assumed the title of Emperor of the Romans, and after 976, this assumption would bring Otto II into a new conflict with Constantinople. It was through Thephana that Byzantine influences penetrated the German Empire and she was admired for securing the throne for her son Otto III. A new straining of relations occurred when Otto III took the throne around 1000, he being educated in the Byzantine style, appointed a new pontiff who took the name Sylvester II. Later, he reportedly desecrated the tomb of Charles the Great and used the imperial insignia belonging to the Carolingian monarch. At the same time, he moved the capital to Rome, which was the capital of the world, as the Roman church was the mother of all churches. He assumed the role of protector of the Church, created episcopates and especially dignities on the Byzantine model, so his ambition was totally different from that of his grandfather, his dream being to rebuild the Roman Empire. Otto III died at the age of 22-23 in 1002, and according to his wishes was buried in Aachen alongside Charles the Great. After Otto III’s death, his successors abandoned his political line and focused their attention on the main territories they controlled (Italy and Germany).
During the period of the great migrations, the Byzantine Empire also faced religious disputes. In the first phase, from the 4th century onwards, disputes over the nature of Christ took place. In the second phase, in the 5th-7th centuries, there are disputes about the relationship between the human and divine nature of the person of Christ. In the 3rd century, Christianity gains adherents during the crisis.
In sec. 3rd-4th centuries persecution of Christians for refusing to respect the imperial cult. For the suffering they endured, heaven promised Christians reward after death. From the 4th century, freedom of worship was granted to Christians. After 313, the need arose to establish a dogma over which there could be no dispute. Heresy meant choice.
In the 4th century, the structure of Roman society is moulded by the legal and official church, the diocese becoming the basic unit of the church. It also moulded itself to the values of secular society. If until the 4th century it had a horizontal structure, from then on the hierarchy would be legitimised and high positions were held by aristocrats.
Tensions have arisen between the masses of believers and the top of the Christian church, who are followers of new values. Rivalries arose between bishops’ sees. The Roman bishop claims the first position in the Christian church, using as arguments the foundations laid by Peter and Paul. But there were other important episcopal sees in Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople. From 381, Theodosius made the episcopate of Constantinople the second in the hierarchy of episcopal sees, and from 451 the Roman and Byzantine episcopates were equal. Constantinople claims supremacy using the argument of the foundation of the see of ancient Byzantium by the Apostle Andrew.
A rivalry broke out between the bishopric of Constantinople and that of Alexandria, supported by the Pope. Social tensions fuelled religious disputes, the bureaucracy was strengthened, and new administrative structures were created that put pressure on the population through excessive taxation. Local particularisms asserted themselves. Heresies became the ideal way of expressing dissatisfaction with the policies promoted by Constantinople.
In the 4th century, an Alexandrian priest, Arius, began to expound his theory that the God of the Father was imperishable and uncreated, while the Son was created by the Father and did not have the same substance as the God of the Father. The church caused tension in the Alexandrian episcopate, and a local synod was convened in Alexandria in 320-321 condemning Arius’ doctrine. He was removed from Alexandria, but continued to spread his ideas at Nicomedia.
Constantine intervened to restore order and convened the first ecumenical council in 325 at Nicaea. Constantine presided over it and intervened decisively. Arianism was condemned and Arius was exiled to Iliricum. The right faith upheld by Athanasius, Arius’s rival-orthodoxy-was declared. The first positions of the Nicene Creed-Symbol were adopted. Politics was to establish the church-state relationship, with the emperor having the right to intervene in church affairs. Constantine, however, summoned Arius to rehabilitate him after the Council of Tyre in 335 and appointed him Bishop of Alexandria. Arius died shortly afterwards, but Arianism gained ground, being formalised by Constantius II and supported by Valens, and then spread by Ulphila among the ranks of the Goths who were Christianised on the Arian rite. Arianism was a form of anti-Roman resistance and was adopted by the Lombards, Ostrogoths and Visigoths.
In the 4th century the heresy of Macedonius arose, which held that the Holy Spirit is not of the same nature as the Father and the Son. Theodosius I intervened, in 381 convening the Council of Constantinople, where the Creed was completed and the decisions taken at the Council of Nicaea were restored. Arianism disappears, but remains among the Germanic populations.
5th century heresies and their consequences – Nestorianism and Monophysitism
Although the Christological struggles seemed to be over, two other Christological schools were founded in Antioch and Alexandria in the 5th century. The one in Antioch was close to the Arianist line, and the one in Alexandria was close to the mystical line of Athanasius, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazians and Gregory of Nyssa.
The school of Antioch held that Jesus, after the incarnation, was predominantly human in nature, thus the Virgin Mary could not be considered “Birth of God”, an idea spread by Nestorios, who in 428, became bishop of Constantinople .
The Alexandrian School was traditionalist, claiming that Christ had a divine nature after incarnation, but human nature was lost in the divine, thus giving rise to Monophysitism. The two doctrines clashed at the Third Council of Ephesus in 431. Decisions on Nestorianism were passed, and it was condemned as heresy under the strong influence of the bishop of Alexandria.Nestorios was deposed and exiled. The Council of Ephesus marks the Monophysite victory supported by the Alexandrian school, with the Virgin Mary being declared as the “Birth of God”.Monophysitism gained ground due to the pharaonic power of the Bishop of Alexandria. The Bishop of Constantinople, supported by Pope Leo the Great, condemned Monophysitism, and Theodosius II convened a new council at Ephesus in 449. Abuses were committed and the Pope’s envoys were mistreated. The “robber council” was unrecognised by the church. Marcian succeeded to the throne who was married to the sister of Theodosius, a supporter of orthodoxy.
In 451 the Fourth Council of Chalcedon was convened, which condemned Nestorianism and Monophysitism, and established as an official dogma Diophysitism, whereby the human and divine natures of Christ were considered to be united. After the condemnation of Monophysitism, tensions increased in the eastern provinces, especially in Egypt, manifesting themselves in open fighting between the Orthodox camp led by the Bishop of Constantinople and the Monophysite camp led by the Patriarch of Alexandria. The first Monophysite church, the Coptic Church of Egypt, was established, and new Monophysite churches were organized in Syria and Armenia. Tensions deepened and the emperors tried to compromise between the two sides. Emperor Zeno even issued the ‘Henotikon’ edict in 482 forbidding religious disputes.
In 553 , Justinian convened the Fifth Council in Constantinople, attempting to reconcile the Orthodox and Monophysites by condemning the Nestorian writings, but failed.In the 7th century, the Arabs conquered the eastern provinces which put up little resistance to them following internal religious tensions. Tolerance of Monophysites is initially shown. Heraclius tried to impose two compromise formulas, issuing monoenergism, i.e. two natures but one energy, and then monotheism, i.e. two natures but one will to act, which was to be imposed by two edicts of 638 and 648. The results were not as expected, and in the 7th century the Byzantine Empire lost Egypt. In 680-681, the Sixth Ecumenical Council was held in Constantinople, convened and presided over by Constantine IV, condemning heresies, including compromise formulas, and restoring orthodoxy, but at the cost of territorial losses.
Sources on this period are scarce as the works of iconoclastic authors were destroyed after the restoration of the cult of icons. Fragments were preserved in the acts of the Ecumenical Council of 787 or in the works of their opponents. The most important are the three treatises on the destruction of icons written by John the Damasquin, which are outside the borders of the empire. The Church was trying to reject paganism and return to early principles.
There was a lack of a clear position of the Church on the worship of icons. There were positions of prominent church representatives who opposed the veneration and presence of icons in Byzantine churches.
Eusebius of Caesarea opposed Constantine’s sister’s request to bring him a portrait of Christ, because he considered that reproducing Christ’s divine features and accepting and venerating images could lead to paganism.
Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis, in the 5th century, came up with the same opinion. Pope Gregory the Great received a letter from the Bishop of Marseilles informing him that all icons in churches under his authority had been removed. Gregory reacted, insisting that only by using icons could the ignorant people be educated religiously.
The cult of icons developed at a time when the empire was going through a serious crisis and the population sought refuge in the church. In the Monophysite-influenced eastern provinces it was argued that the divine nature of Christ could not be portrayed in icons. Iconoclast emperors such as Leo III, Constantine V, Leo V, Michael II, and Theophilus were originally from Syria, Armenia or Phrygia. The Empresses Irene and Theodora who restored the cult of icons were from Greece and Asia Minor.
The instrument used to enforce the iconoclastic measures was the army, with soldiers recruited from the eastern provinces. Even Muslims were influenced, with the Arab caliph Yazid II banning the worship of icons in Christian churches in the caliphate.
The iconoclasm was triggered by an edict issued by Leo III the Isaurian in 726. The veneration of icons, relics and relics was forbidden. The portrait of Christ on the bronze gate of the imperial palace was destroyed. A riot broke out and was brutally suppressed. The Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Papacy in Rome expressed their disapproval. Revolts broke out in Greece and Italy. In 730, in order to gain support, Leo convened a council at the imperial palace, before which the emperor presented the edict banning the veneration of sacred images. The patriarch refuses to sign, so he is deposed and another patriarch, Anastasius, is appointed, who accepts and signs the edict. Constantine V deposed Leo III and continued his policies. He convened an ecumenical synod in Constantinople in 754 which was not attended by the patriarchs or the pope. Thus, an iconoclastic patriarch was appointed who adopted the resolution condemning icons. From then on, the making of icons was forbidden. Those who made them were punished, excommunicated, removed from ecclesiastical office, judged as opponents of God and anathema was pronounced. Icons and paintings were burned, and iconodulators were tortured, imprisoned or executed.Only scenes from nature were painted in churches. Monks were also severely punished and forced to marry. Monastery estates were secularised and monasteries were turned into barracks and arsenals. Many monks emigrated to Greece or southern Italy, or to Cyprus. Leo IV continued the iconoclastic policy. Under the regency taken over by Empress Irina in the name of Constantine VI, the cult of icons was restored by Patriarch Tarasios following the Ecumenical Councils of Constantinople in 786 and Nicaea in 787. Relics were re-installed in churches, monasteries were restored, but there were still many supporters of iconoclasm.
In 815 iconoclasm returned under Leo V the Armenian after he had deposed Patriarch Nicephorus and following the Council of Constantinople. But iconoclasm had lost its support.
In 843, in the type of regency taken over by Theodora in the name of Michael III, the cult of icons was definitively restored. The imperial authority had the most to gain after the transfer of property and population from the church to the secular sphere. The emperor’s prestige was restored, and the church became a submissive ally of imperial authority. But paintings, monumental sculptures and icons were destroyed. Evidence of Byzantine painting from the 16th century 4th-6th century paintings can still be found in Thessaloniki and Italy.
Eusebius of Caesarea is considered the father of Christian historiography. He was not included in the ranks of the Eastern Church because he opposed the decision of the Council of Nicaea in 325, proposing a compromise formula. He wrote the Universal Chronicle and the Ecclesiastical History. In the Universal Chronicle he wrote about the Chaldean, Assyrian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman chronological systems of antiquity, and gave a chronology of world history from the birth of Abraham in 2016 BC to 303 AD – the beginning of the Christian persecutions. The Universal Chronicle written in Greek was translated into Latin by Jerome. The Ecclesiastical History comprised 10 books, from the birth of Christ to 323, emphasized the temporal dimension and was based on historical documents. The work was translated into Latin in the 5th century by Rufinus of Aquileia. Eusebius also wrote an apologetic biographical work on the emperor, Vita Constantini, which has at its core the eulogy delivered in 337. In the 5th century Ecclesiastical Histories were produced, and the genre of universal chronicle continued into the 12th century, such as the 6th century chronicle of John Malalas. Procopius of Caesarea was another great representative. An advisor to General Belisarius, but after falling into disgrace, he was removed from Constantinople and sent back to Caesarea. He wrote numerous works on the reign of Emperor Justinian. In the Wars, he tried to be objective, focusing more on the personality of General Belizarius. He describes the campaigns against the Persians, and then the campaigns against the Vandals and Ostrogoths. Some critical emphases on Justinian appear, such as the Nika Uprising, but he also presents Byzantine geographical, historical, cultural and ethnographic information. In On Construction, divided into 6 books-557, he praised the work of the building industry of Justinian’s reign, the work being written while he was still in Constantinople. In The Secret History, written in 550-560, Procopius takes a different tone in describing Justinian and his wife Theodora, who are blamed for harshness, natural disasters, that Justinian was the devil’s envoy on earth. Procopius, being of the senatorial aristocracy, was unhappy with Justinian’s actions in promoting new men to the administration. Justinian is presented in critical, sarcastic terms, accusing him of incompetence, abuse, corruption and vice.
It is said that history is written by the victors, and the best example is how the Byzantine Empire has been treated in history: an empire hated by Western Europe, as shown by the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
The 20th century marks a significant increase in historians’ interest in understanding empire and its impact on European civilisation. Contributions to the development of culture, science and social life in the West have only recently been recognised with difficulty. The city of Constantinople, rightly called the ‘City-King’, was a metropolis of major importance in the Middle Ages, on a par with the importance of Rome and Athens in antiquity. Byzantine culture is undoubtedly one of the most important cultures in the world. Because of its unique position as a continuator of the values of the Roman Empire, it tends to be ignored by classicists and Western medievalists alike. It is common for them to attribute the continuity of Roman culture (in Europe) only to the West (the Holy Roman Empire), even though organisationally, state-wise, the West had a thankless, politically confused situation between the 5th and 9th centuries. Therefore, the development of Western European, Slavic and Islamic cultures cannot be understood without understanding the huge Byzantine influence. The study of medieval European history cannot be done without understanding the Byzantine world. In fact, the Middle Ages are traditionally delimited in time by the fall of Rome in 476 and the fall of Constantinople in 1453, i.e. from the 5th to the 15th century.
The Byzantine Empire was the only stable state in the medieval period. Military capacity and diplomatic power provided western Europe with security from devastating invasions from the east, at a time when western European Christian kingdoms were deeply unstable and unable to face major military challenges. The Byzantines defended Europe from attacks by Persians, Arabs, Seljuk Turks and, for a time, Ottoman Turks.
In trade, Byzantium was the terminus of the Silk Road. It was the most important trading centre for most, if not all, of the Middle Ages. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 closed the land route to Asia Minor and brought the Silk Road to ruin. This led to a change in trade routes, the search for new ones being the impetus that led to Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas.
Byzantium was the route through which the knowledge of antiquity was passed on to the Islamic and European Renaissance world. The Renaissance would not have flourished without the multitude of Greek scholars who fled to the west after the fall of the Empire (1453) and their precious knowledge. The theological influence on the West, especially through Thomas Aquinas, was profound.
It was the Byzantine Empire that spread Christianity throughout Europe, even if attempts are sometimes made to limit its cultural importance to the Eastern European Orthodox world. Orthodox Byzantine missionaries Christianized the various Slavic and other peoples of Eastern Europe. Byzantine influence is also felt in the religion of millions of Christians in Ethiopia, Egypt, Georgia and Armenia.
Byzantium as a “mental” entity left a real legacy in Europe, a real order, tolerated by the Ottoman Empire, because the Turks could not replace it. This spiritual space that survived, especially in South-Eastern Europe, was called by Nicolae Iorga “Byzantium after Byzantium”.
Byzantium after Byzantium
The historical concept introduced by Nicolae Iorga, Byzantium after Byzantium, defines the continuity of the spiritual unity, under the umbrella of Orthodox Christianity, of the Romanian rulers, of the peoples of Southeast Europe for almost four hundred years, from the fall of Byzantium (1453) to the first part of the 19th century. Romanian rulers such as Stephen the Great, Matthew Basarab, Vasile Lupu, Constantin Brancoveanu, contributed decisively to the preservation of the unity of the Byzantine cultural space, through a consistent and constant financial, political and cultural support granted to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and to the monasteries of the Eastern Mediterranean space (from Athos to Jerusalem and Alexandria). It should also be pointed out that the nationality of each of the southern Danubian peoples owes much to the right to profess their Orthodox faith under the Patriarchate of Constantinople during the Ottoman period. This area of ‘Byzantium after Byzantium’ was, however, ‘colonised’ by Russian imperialism from the end of the 18th century, when the Tsarist Empire, under the doctrine of Pan-Slavism, sought to make the most unholy advance into the Balkan area in order to control the Straits and the adjacent area.
- Imperiul Roman de Răsărit
- Byzantine Empire
- ^ Stelian Brezeanu-O istorie a Bizantului, ed. Meronia , pag. 16,89, 134, 250
- ^ Mango 2009, p. 28 e nota.
- ^ «Invece, nel suo primo periodo [324-610], l’Impero bizantino era ancora effettivamente un impero romano e tutta la sua vita era fittamente contesta di elementi romani. Questo periodo, che si può chiamare sia il primo periodo bizantino, sia il tardo periodo dell’Impero romano, appartiene alla storia bizantina non meno che alla storia romana. I primi tre secoli della storia bizantina – o gli ultimi tre secoli della storia romana – sono una tipica età di transizione che conduce dall’Impero romano all’Impero bizantino medioevale, in cui le forme di vita dell’antica Roma man mano si estinguono e cedono il posto alle nuove forme di vita dell’età bizantina.» (Ostrogorsky, Storia dell’Impero bizantino, p. 27.)
- В 1204—1261 годах Константинополь находился под контролем рыцарей-крестоносцев.
- ср.-греч. Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων (Римская империя); ср.-греч. Ῥωμανία (Романия); ср.-греч. Ῥωμαῖοι (Ромеи)
- ^ Stephen Williams och J.G.P. Friell, The Rome that did not fall: the survival of the East in the fifth century, CRC Press, 1999, ISBN 0-203-98231-2. Sida 187.
- ^ Hughes, Philip (1949), A History of the Church I (rev ed.), Sheed & Ward.
- ^ Grindle, Gilbert (1892) The Destruction of Paganism in the Roman Empire, pp. 29–30