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7-08-2015, 19:53

Inside out: emperors, outsiders and roman orthodox identity

The relations of Byzantium with the Christian west loom large through the chapters that follow, tracing political, military and ecclesiastical encounters and exchanges. This does not necessarily mark over-simplification of the issues for the sake of narrative formatting. To recount Byzantium’s relationship with all the peoples and areas around it in equal measure would not be feasible, given the kaleidoscopic movement of the peoples and, in many cases, the dearth of source-materials for their relations with the empire. The only institution whose dealings with Byzantium can be tracked continuously across a thousand years is the papacy, offering an alternative universalist scheme of things. The minutiae of this relationship are not analysed or recounted here, but Byzantino-papal relations form a baseline for Byzantium’s relations with the Christian west, a story offering extensive windows on, if not a key to, the empire’s longevity. Time and again, they also show how ‘Old Rome’ and its adherents impinged on the empire’s domestic affairs. There was an epic turning of the tables in the balance of power and wealth between Byzantium and the west from the sixth century, when Justinian’s armies restored most of Italy to his dominion, through to the eleventh century, when emperors could still harness western martial and commercial resources on their own terms, and up to the thirteenth and fourteenth century, when westerners often, but not invariably, had the upper hand. By the late Byzantine era, the empire was in many ways an economic colony of the west, the Genoese and Venetians controlling the islands and other strategically important vantage-points in the Aegean, backed up by formidable naval resources and exchanging manufactured goods for primary produce. The renown of western arms was such that Manuel II Palaiologos (1391–1425) spent years touring the west in hopes of military aid.22 Yet by this time much of the Peloponnese had been restored to imperial dominion after decades of Frankish rule in the thirteenth century, and – against theTurkish odds – ‘hot-spots’ such as Thessaloniki still aligned themselves with the emperor in Constantinople under the encouragement of their church leaders (see below, pp. 857–9). In tracing these shifts in power one glimpses the silhouette, if little more, of that ‘silent majority’ of orthodoxGreek-speaking country-dwellers whose customs and beliefs stood in the way of occupiers’ maximal exaction of resources and consolidation of their regimes. In its way, the imperviousness of ‘Greek matters’ to land-based Latin warlords and churchmen offers as strong a clue as any to the reasons for the resilience of the Byzantine empire (see above and below, pp. 777–8). Yet it also stood in the way of Palaiologan emperors seeking some form of union with Rome (see below, pp. 829, 863–4). This work pays pronounced attention to emperors’ dealings with nonmembers of their empire, those considered not quite ‘Romans’ for one reason or another, laying it open to the charge of undue attention to ‘Byzantium’s foreign relations with little regard for its internal history’.23 This plaint cited the then-published volumes of the New Cambridge medieval history and is pertinent, seeing that over half our chapters derive from contributions made to that series; the series’ framing of the middle ages is maintained in this work.24 Moreover our chapters, in line with the New Cambridge medieval history, aim to present the interplay between socio-economic developments, the turn of events and vicissitudes of successive political regimes – the stuff of narrative. There are, as emphasised above, many roads to Byzantium, but the trails left by contacts with outsiders are numerous and quite well documented. They bear closely on Byzantium’s one undeniable characteristic, its durability, and on our opening questions: how on earth did the empire last so long, as political entity and as idea? The empire was continuously confronting armed outsiders, and constructing a balanced account of this requires frequent recourse to non-Byzantine sources. So attention to alternative polities seems not merely excusable, but advisable, particularly since those which veered between merging with and separating from Byzantium often provide invaluable information about the empire’s internal affairs. Four considerations may support this proposition. Firstly, a geopolitical fact no less important for being obvious: Constantinople lay at the hub of many routes by land and sea. Constantine theGreat chose Byzantium because major military highways converged there and because its accessibility by sea would facilitate provisioning of the increased population he envisaged for his new residence. For almost 300 years corn supplies were regularly shipped from Egypt, free of charge. But the assumption that overwhelming advantage would lie with the emperor against all comers already needed qualification in Justinian’s era. Once Byzantium became a kind of empire sans fronti`eres, the very accessibility of Constantinople and its environs exposed citizens to abrupt arrivals of aliens. Even lulls were apt to be rudely interrupted by the onset of ‘barbarians’, as for example the appearance off the City walls of 800 Rus or Scandinavians who refused to disarm and whose ships had to be dealt with around 1025.25 And the speed with which Suleiman ibn Qutlumush (1081– 6) and his Turkomans advanced north-westwards along the military road towards the Bosporus in 1075 shows the mixed blessings of the highways inherited from ancient Rome.26 The state of emergency generated by the Arabs’ onset eased after the seventh and eighth centuries, but the challenge posed by potentially formidable foes on two or more fronts at a time never wholly lifted.27 Goings-on among outsiders were therefore of keenest concern to imperial statesmen. Through maintaining a stance of eternal vigilance against barbarians, they could hope for loyalty and order among the City’s inhabitants. The capital was, in effect, permanently in a frontline position and this raises a second aspect of the empire’s involvement with outsiders: every generation or so Constantinople’s citizens faced a major ‘barbarian’ incursion or at least an alert.28 The more fertile tracts of territory in the provinces were mostly either at risk of raids fromMuslims or juxtaposed to Slavonicspeaking populations. Those fewwhichwere not, such as the inner sanctum around the Sea of Marmara or the north-eastern Peloponnese (see below, p. 501), were of considerable economic and fiscal value to the empire, enabling it to carry on. In fact the very fragmentation of Byzantium’s territories from the seventh century onwards made it the harder for marauders to hit all the prize areas simultaneously.With a modicum of naval capability, the imperial government could tap these fertile areas’ resources and maintain an administrative infrastructure and armed forces of a sort. Revenues reliant on agrarian produce, porous borders and painstaking (and therefore slow) methods of assessing and collecting taxes in consultation with locals were not wholly incompatible with one another (see below, p. 63). But in such circumstances the government could seldom afford very large, full-time armed forces, and the more convincing estimates favour a generally modest scale.29 This brings us to a third aspect of the emperors’ ready recourse to external regimes and keen interest in direct dealings with them: the value of military manpower from other societies, whether as individuals in the imperial forces, companies serving alongside them, or self-sustaining hosts attacking Byzantium’s enemies on home ground. Sizable field armies recruited from ‘Romans’ and geared to combat were not only costly to equip and maintain. They also posed a standing temptation for ambitious generals. Military coups, apprehended and actual, formed part of the empire’s heritage from ancient Rome and the double-edged qualities of glorious victories won by generals, however trustworthy, underlie Justinian’s differing treatment of Narses, who as a eunuch was debarred from the throne, and Belisarius (see below, pp. 206, 208). During the Byzantine emperors’ centuries-long confrontation with their Muslim counterparts they were ever watchful of their strat¯egoi (see below, pp. 259, 266, 380–1, 394). These provincial governors had sweeping powers, but neither the revenues nor high-calibre manpower sufficient to make a bid for the throne easy. Themselves disposing of finite military resources, emperors had good reason to concern themselves with elites and power structures other than their own. It was not merely a matter of cost-effectiveness, substituting battle-hardened ‘barbarian’ brawn for that of Christian Romans, nor even that outsiders were generally less likely to show enthusiasm for attempts on the throne. Diplomacy amounted to negotiating arrangements with external or subordinate powers and with other elements not quite – or not at all – Roman. This was an activity that an emperor could direct from his palace, relying on court counsellors and hand-picked agents, notably the basilikoi who often acted as his emissaries to another potentate or notable. In this way the emperor could swiftly mobilise armed units, even whole armies. They served his ends but with minimal employment of his administrative apparatus, and payment was at least partly conditional upon results. Thus the ‘flat-management’ style discernible in central governmental bureaus of middle Byzantium suited the emperor’s dealings with outsiders particularly well. And in this special relationship of the emperor with barbarians lies a fourth reason for our paying particular attention to un-Roman peoples beyond the City walls. It is in the field of diplomacy thatByzantine statecraft can claim responsibility for a text without any known precursor from the ancient Roman epoch. The title of De administrando imperio (‘Concerning the governance of the empire’) given by a seventeenth-century scholar to Constantine VII’s handbook addressed to his son Romanos II (959–63) has been criticised as a misnomer, since internal affairs feature only briefly, far more coverage being devoted to ‘the nations’ (ethn¯e), outsiders beyond his direct dominion. But the highly personal nature of the text does not make it unrepresentative: Constantine’s order of priorities registers where palace-bound emperors saw their strengths lying. Constantine’s rhetoric in his preface demonstrates the way in which workaday considerations of costeffectiveness could be dignified into positive affirmations of the emperor’s ascendancy, couched in biblical tones: God has raised up Romanos ‘as a golden statue on a high place’, ‘that the nations may bring to thee their gifts’ and bow down before him (Psalms 17.34, 71.10, 32.14).30 Through the incessant reception of embassies from other potentates, the emperor could demonstrate his authority in majestic form and signal his hegemony to subjects as well as to outsiders. In addition, and with less ceremony, he dealt directly with individual foreign notables. The logothete of the Drome was the first official to have an audience with the emperor in the Chrysotriklinos each morning, and he had a further session every evening. External affairs and matters arising from them were the logothete’s principal brief, and one reason for his close attendance on the emperor was probably the steady flow of outsiders through this hall. The Book of ceremonies treats the reception there of ‘several foreigners’ as routine.31 These were not necessarily ambassadors, representing another potentate, but individuals. Such face-to-face encounters enabled the emperor to forge personal ties with a wide range of notables, encounters which might involve bestowal of a court-title but had no necessary institutional framework. Through his ‘diplomacy of hospitality’ the emperor could make the acquaintance of individuals who might return to a position of prominence in their home society – or might return to acquire as much. Besides, there was always the possibility that a visiting ethnikos would opt to remain at Constantinople, becoming the emperor’s doulos, even ultimately a Roman. Young barbarians from across the steppes or from the other end of Europe were apt to spend stints at court.32 The princely and noble families among the Armenians offered particularly rich pickings for talent-spotters at Constantinople, and lower-born individuals could rise through merit, usually initially military, in the emperor’s service. The families of theKourkouases and the Lekapenoi are examples of such recruitment. Instances of Armenian princes and, still more strikingly, of middle-ranking notables holding court-titles while resident in their homeland will feature in chapters below.33 The Armenian lands and their multifarious links with Byzantium were to an extent a special case, but similar processes were underway on most approaches to Byzantium other than central and south-eastern Anatolia in the era of the jihad. They underline the way in which governance shaded into dealings with separate societies and cultures.During the earlier middle ages military governors supplemented central officials in treating with Slavonic-speaking and other non-Roman notables on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, Dyrrachium and other fortresses and strongholds on the Balkan and Peloponnesian coast, while headmen of Slav groupings such as the Belegezitai were termed archontes and given responsibilities as well as titles. In this way, and complemented by ecclesiastical organisation, imperial enclaves very gradually extended their reach to the point where taxes were imposed or services exacted.34 In the western portions of the Byzantine ‘archipelago’ what might be termed ‘internal diplomacy’ was continually in play, operating by devices not dissimilar to the higher-profile encounters of the emperor with potentates and notables in the Chrysotriklinos or Magnaura at Constantinople. Thus encounters and negotiations of many kinds between the emperor and his senior officials and outsiders – whether informal meetings, ties solemnised by a court-title, or actual administrative posts – were the sinews of Byzantine governance. This networking process was necessarily unending, occurring at many different points and social levels across the imperial dominions, not merely the capital. This is one reason why the question of Roman identities is so complex. A senior army commander, Philaretos Brachamios, could carve out a power structure having markedly Armenian characteristics to the point where he was dubbed first of the Armenian rulers of Cilicia by a later Armenian chronicler.35 And a century earlier the sons of an Armenian kom¯es in the imperial armed forces had transmuted into leaders of a Bulgarian insurrection against Byzantine occupation, the Kometopouloi (see below, p. 522). Collation of Byzantine with western sources shows several persons prominent in the imperial service, intellectual life and even the Byzantine patriarchate in the eleventh and twelfth centuries to have had close Italian connections, if not actually to have been of Italian origin.36 It is by considering some of the other elites with which the imperial court had so much to do that one may hope to understand the workings of the Byzantine empire. If this attention to ‘foreign relations’ appears excessive, such is the price of prying into the human, and not very institutionalised, organs of that empire. Byzantium’s workings involved compromise and accommodation on the part of both outsiders and imperial authorities. The latter were in practice willing to make concessions. For example, the Rus trading in Constantinople in the tenth century were allowed to have their disputes with Byzantines resolved partly in accordance with Rus custom,37 while the Armenian princes allocated territories in eastern Anatolia had commands over sizable communities of fellow Armenians, maintaining their own culture and church organisation.38 At any stage in the course of these encounters, individual outsiders could opt for Roman ways and religious orthodoxy in their entirety. Hence the need to keep orthodoxy clear and pure, and to be on guard against deviance. It is no accident that lists of ‘the errors of the Latins’ (i.e. western Christians) began to be circulated at the very time when westerners were becoming a familiar sight in the larger Byzantine towns and on highways, and when social intercourse with them was on the rise.39 It was, in fact, their ongoing accommodation of exogenous groups and individuals within the empire in varying degrees of assimilation and their flexibility in dealings with them and with externally based traders, elites and potentates that made Byzantine rulers so adamant concerning certain prerogatives. So long as key marks of uniquely legitimate hegemony were reserved, all manner of concessions – jurisdictional, territorial, honorific – might be vouchsafed according to circumstances. Foremost among these ‘brandmarks’ was the name of ‘Roman,’ with all its connotations of cultural and moral superiority, antiquity, rightful sovereignty and, from Constantine the Great’s time on, manifest Christian destiny (see above, p. 6). It is no accident that the Byzantines reacted promptly to those external rulers and their emissaries (usually western) who impugned their monopoly of Romanness, whether by terming the basileus ‘Greek’ or by purporting to brand their own regime Roman (see below, pp. 417, 432, 540, 545). From the same considerations, efforts were made to maintain consistent protocols, terminology and, even (for centuries at a time), media in formal communications of the basileus with other rulers. As Anthony Bryer observes, John VIII was still styling himself ‘emperor and autocrat of the Romans’ and signing in purple ink at the council of Florence in 1439.40 Court ceremonial and indeed the whole ambiance of the emperor’s ‘sacred palace’ in Constantinople, its orders of precedence, titles, vestments and other trappings, were likewise presented as quintessentially ‘Roman’. As the chapters below suggest, the style of the court could alter as new emperors sought to distance themselves from immediate predecessors, and certain authority symbols changed appearance over time. Yet even emperors invoking ‘renewal’ to legitimise their regime tended to present themselves as ‘new Constantines’, harking back to the very first Constantine.41 Conscious effortswere made to use de luxe baths, antique dining styles, buildings and other monuments, together with chariot-racing and spectacles patently associated with ancient traditions for the grander state occasions.42 Such observances seem mostly to have continued until the twelfth century. Some involved sizable numbers of Constantinople’s citizens as well as the elite,43 and the games and races occasionally yet regularly held in the Hippodrome symbolised the emperor’s ‘marriage’ to his City aswell as his other attributes, such as eternal victory (see below, p. 521). Even banquets in the palace drew hundreds of invited guests, and the purpose of official orders of precedence was to maintain ‘good form’ and order (taxis) against the ever-present risk of confusion and loss of imperial composure.44 But there was also a sense that the imperial court was the repository, breeding-ground and citadel of true Romanness, the place where those ‘born in the purple’ would first see light of day.45 The conviction that being raised in the palace conferred moral qualities aswell as legitimacy was volubly expressed by a prime (and far fromdisinterested) beneficiary, Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. Decrying his former co-emperor, Romanos I Lekapenos (920–44) as ‘common and illiterate’, he opined that only ‘those raised up in the palace’ were imbued with ‘Roman customs from the very beginning’, as if the court were a kind of crucible of Romanness.46 Classical, Attic Greek was also prized by Constantine, aware as he was of his own deficiencies in writing it.47 Attic was the dialect in which orations and other formal statements were composed for delivery at court occasions, and in which official accounts of emperors’ deeds were composed. Thus the Byzantine court, with its regard for ‘good form’ and preoccupation with continuity, religious orthodoxy and linguistic correctness might seem to epitomise a ‘mandarin’ political culture. Literary works from this quarter are among the readiest sources for the general history of the empire (see below, p. 58). Such priorities and shibboleths are, however, best viewed against a background of barbarians frequenting the imperial court, ad hoc arrangements continually being made with useful potentates, and titles bestowed on outsiders with barely a smattering of spoken Greek. The proportion of families in the ruling elite comprising first-, second- or third-generation immigrants probably made up around a quarter of the total.48 The number of persons of external stock who made it, or almost made it, to the imperial throne is striking. Romanos Lekapenos’ uncouthness made an easy target for Constantine VII’s jibes since he was of quite recent Armenian origins. But the Porphyrogenitus was himself the grandson of a low-born opportunist, conceivably of Slavonic stock; the tendentious ancestry claimed for Basil ‘the Macedonian’ in the Life of Basil composed under Constantine’s auspices even represents him as of Armenian kingly descent.49 Once sole occupant of the throne, Basil I had displayed his orthodox piety and staged triumphs to parade his supposed qualities of victorious generalship.50 He also undertook spectacular works to restore churches in and around Constantinople and to refurbish the Great Palace, the setting for imperial ceremonies.51 Basil’s measures were designed to legitimise a palace coup, but they demonstrate how certain ‘core values’ such as doctrinal orthodoxy and regard for palace ceremonial lent themselves to assimilation by highly ambitious, capable outsiders. Basil’s adaptation and manipulation of establishment forms and conventions was extraordinarily skilful, enabling him to work, charm and perhaps sleep his way to the very top. But his career pattern was played out less spectacularly – and through more straightforward merits such as military talent – by many individuals intent on merely attaining the higher reaches of the imperial establishment, or gaining a footing there for their offspring. Many were members, if not from the dominant family, of elites beyond Byzantium’s borders, external or internal.52 Thus one of Basil’s early patrons, the widow Danelis, appears to have belonged to the ruling family of a Sklavinia in the Peloponnese. Basil’s way of thanking her upon seizing power was to confer a court-title on her son and to stage a reception in the Magnaura, befitting ‘someone of substance and distinction who is at the head of an ethnos’.53 The concern with ‘form’ and general inclination to stand on ceremony of imperial Byzantines were, unquestionably, obstacles to casual infiltration by outsiders belonging to different cultures. Their presence in sizable numbers in the imperial milieu was predicated by the ‘diplomacy of hospitality’. An abiding apprehension was that this might lead to dilution of the ‘Roman customs’ which were integral to Byzantium’s credentials for hegemony. Such apprehensions are seldom vented in as many words in extant written sources. But they go far to explaining the limitations of the historical sources emanating from the Byzantine establishment, their preference for a classicising prose style and tendency to present events in terms of antique or scriptural precedents. The insistence on taxis in the more functional works composed in palace circles is, in fact, an index of the pressures making for the reverse. Prominent among those pressures’ drivers was the steady stream into Constantinople – and, often, out again – of outsiders, whether from the ‘outer territories’ beyond the City walls54 or out-and-out ethnikoi. The maelstrom of constant interaction between the imperial leadership and significant outsiders and alternative power structures underlies the glassy surface that establishment-derived literature tends to present to us. This interaction, the opportunities as well as the problems it posed for Byzantium’s rulers, is a theme running through the chapters of this book and it has a bearing on the empire’s longevity.

 

 

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