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7-08-2015, 19:57

Taking stock: the economy, religious missions, border regions and significant others

The question of economic conditions on the eve of the Latins’ seizure of Constantinople is discussed by Mark Whittow in one of the ten topicor region-specific chapters in Part II. Byzantine economic history has undergone intensive enquiry, and The economic history of Byzantium: from the seventh through the fifteenth century published in 2002 provides an authoritative summing up.40 The work’s three volumes contain (besides much else) syntheses on economic and non-economic exchange, the role of the state in the economy, and the periodisation of Byzantine economic history, as well as studies on the urban economy, both in Constantinople and in the provinces, and also surveys of economic life in the countryside, and of prices and salaries.41 Taking account of all this, Whittow shows that there remains room for discussion over the main lines of Byzantium’s economic development. In particular, our ever-expanding archaeological database suggests that the material impoverishment and demonetarisation of the provinces in the seventh and eighth centuries may not have been quite as drastic as often supposed, and thus that the undeniable economic recovery of the ninth and tenth centuries may have started from a higher base-line (see below, pp. 478, 483–4). Whittow reopens the question of the relationship between this recovery and the condition of peasant-proprietors. Such proprietors could be of substance, and imperial novellae referring to them as ‘poor’ (pen¯etai) denote their vulnerability to encroachments by the well-connected rather than material penury (see below, p. 489). Imperial pronouncements concerning their vital benefit to the state had their rationale, whereas the eventual amassing of prime properties by a few well-connected and privileged families was of questionable compatibility with the state apparatus’ longer-term workings (see below, pp. 490–1). Unlike economic affairs, Byzantine missions received limited scholarly attention in the twentieth century. Sergei Ivanov’s chapter is the first survey in English of the full sweep of missionary activity from Justinian’s time to the Palaiologan period.42 Ivanov questions the strength of the Byzantines’ impulse to spread the word to peoples beyond their borders, and shows that the initiative for missions often came from external potentates. The Byzantine state seems to have been better geared to the Christianisation of individuals or groupings of non-Romans now seeking careers in its service, or who had settled en masse within its environs. By contrast, Byzantineborn churchmen such as Theophylact of Ohrid assigned to far-flung sees were at their most eloquent in expressing discomfort with their barbarous surroundings.43 The emperor’s role of indomitable defender of ‘the Christians’ was projected in court ceremonial as vividly as his image of being the equal of the apostles, and here at least, as Walter Kaegi shows, rhetoric bore some resemblance to reality. The forces of Islam were arrayed against the once mighty Christian empire, which they claimed to have superseded.Devising administrative means of coping withMuslim incursions was of paramount concern for Constans II (641–68) and subsequent emperors. Warfare with theMuslims was unremitting for centuries, the orthodox Christian convictions of the majority population in Asia Minor supplementing the Taurus mountain range and cold winters in discouraging permanent Arab occupation of Anatolia. Iconoclast emperors repeatedly led expeditions against the Muslims in person; and the early Abbasid caliphs, in contrast to their immediate Umayyad predecessors, were also intent on leading expeditions against the Byzantines themselves (see below, p. 388). The raiding and counter-raiding between the arch adversaries came to form a rhythm, even if the caliphs could still deal knock-out blows to imperial prestige as late as the mid-ninth century (see below, pp. 391–2). The Byzantines’ caution in exploiting the caliphate’s internal difficulties with large-scale military initiatives was matched by the Armenian princes, generally wary of bringing down the wrath of their Muslim overlords. Yet, as Timothy Greenwood shows, the boundaries between Byzantine and Armenian faith and church organisation were more fluid than Armenian narrative historians lead one to suppose. While Photios’ project for formal union between the churches in the ninth century came to nothing, the Constantinopolitan patriarchate extended its organisational reach into what had been the preserve of Armenian churchmen during the tenth century, and writers on behalf of princes not subscribing to the Chalcedonian line on Christ’s nature could still show fulsome admiration for the basileus (see below, p. 357). Such intermingling was not to the emperor’s unmitigated advantage: the ties between leading Byzantine generals and Armenian princes brought them additional military manpower, and Basil II’s involvement with Caucasian affairs was impelled partly by considerations of self-defence (see below, pp. 358–9). The emperor’s interest in the Latin Christians of the central and western Mediterranean regions was likewise stimulated partly by their capacity to intervene in his own affairs, especially as the pope’s spiritual standing entitled him to pronounce on even fairly minor disputes concerning elections within the Constantinopolitan patriarchate. Beneath the formal ecclesiastical boundaries, exchanges between Greek-speaking eastern orthodox populations and communities in Sicily, southern Italy and the Byzantine lands remained active even after the Muslim conquest of Sicily. The prospect of southern Italy succumbing to Sicily’s fate in the later ninth century and becoming a springboard for Arab incursions into Dalmatia and the Aegean prompted Basil I’s decision to restore the southern Adriatic ports and strategically significant inland power-nodes to imperial dominion.44 For almost 200 years, strongholds and eventually extensive tracts of territory on the peninsula came under Byzantine administration. The population of regions such as Apulia was mostly Latin-speaking, its ultimate spiritual head being the pope, while Lombard customs prevailed in the courts.45 This hardly disqualifies southern Italy from attention and yet, as has justly been remarked, the source-material for this part of the empire has still to be fully exploited in many works on Byzantium.46 The seepage of imperial elements and eastern Christian culture into many strata and spheres of Italian life, from the papacy downwards, is demonstrated in Thomas Brown’s chapter. The trajectory of imperial power can only be described as ‘recessional’, and local elites and the papacy had to fend for themselves against Lombards and later Muslim maurauders. But, as Brown shows, ‘le snobisme byzantinisant’ was current among some leading families irrespective of their ethnic origins; commercial ties linked other points with the eastern empire; and even as the papacy aligned its own ideology with Frankish imperium, ‘Rome remained within the Byzantine cultural orbit’ (see below, p. 448). All this had to be taken into account by the Carolingians when trying to bring northern and central Italy within their dominions, as rightfully part of their empire. Many elements in Byzantine religious culture were of interest to churchmen hailing from north of the Alps, not least the utility of Greek for clarifying phrases in the Bible or of the church fathers. AsMichaelMcCormick shows, the militarily robust iconoclast emperors provided a foil for Carolingians and their counsellors, intent on framing an empire to their own specifications yet impeccably Christian (see below, pp. 417–18, 424–5, 431). The working model of such an empire to the east could hardly fail to excite in them emulation, and occasional adaptations. The phenomenon of Frankish arms, letters and church organisation stimulated the papacy to take a firmer, more confident, line in its own dealings with the Constantinopolitan patriarchate and emperors. Things came to a head when in 863 Pope Nicholas I (858–67) took against Photios; the ensuing rift was both symptom of, and further stimulus to, the Byzantine church’s sense of its own exalted status.47 The Frankish behemoth that loomed behind the papacy’s fulminations was, however, disintegrating by the 880s, whereas Byzantium’s naval vessels could still sail to relieve Rome from Muslim raiders. Byzantine dominion began to coagulate and then extend northwards from the heel of Italy. As is pointed out in Chapter 14, the Byzantine expedition to oustMuslim pirates from the Garigliano valley south of Rome in 915 was mounted in tandem with warriors supplied by local magnates and with the papacy’s cooperation. A century later, the katepan¯o Basil Boioannes managed to intervene in the Garigliano valley and destroy the fortress of a papally backed magnate off his own bat (see below, pp. 538, 558). Emperor Henry II (1002–24) retaliated in 1022 but his attempt to cut the Greeks down to size was no more lastingly effective than his recent predecessors’. The resuscitation of the western empire in 962 by the Ottonian dynasty from Saxony had unleashed challenges, explicit and implicit, to Byzantium, but Liudprand of Cremona’s pronouncements on the subject strike a note of defiance rather than fullthroated confidence. In fact the Ottonian emperors found many uses for Byzantine luxury goods and authority symbols in devising a political culture for their newly amassed dominions (see below, pp. 546, 549–50, 554–5). The Ottonians provided the princes of Capua-Benevento and other potentates in south-central Italy with a powerful, yet fitful, counterforce to the Byzantine presence in the peninsula. The principalities of Capua- Benevento and Salerno, and the duchies of Naples, Gaeta and Amalfi seem to have been quite stable through the first two-thirds of the tenth century. They were, however, vulnerable to wrangles over the succession and other disputes within the respective ruling families, and power and resources were becoming diffused among the families of counts and other masters of castelli (see below, pp. 571–2, 579–80). In the case of these principalities and duchies, as with so many other elites and political structures bordering on Byzantium, their amoeba-like characteristics and the highly personal nature of leadership placed them at a disadvantage compared with the continuity of a unitary state. The basileus’ strongholds ensured his potential military presence, while through diverse diplomatic devices, operated by his indigenous officials and local sympathisers and also at his own court, he kept tabs on established leading families and forged ties with significant newcomers. The power-play of Byzantine Italy is fairly well documented and bears comparison with that in the middle Byzantine Balkans, for which archival evidence is poor. There, too, the imperial government maintained its interests with the help of centrally appointed agents, local elites, potentates ensconced in discrete political structures and mobile groupings whose military capability could be temporarily harnessed. Paul Stephenson’s chapter illustrates the traditional workings of steppe-diplomacy and shows how imperial strategy after Basil II’s conquest of Bulgaria envisaged hegemony over the Balkans: a network of routes and a series of zones, with the innermost receiving fairly intensive administration, fiscal exactions and protection, while the outer ones were left more to their own devices, under local notables (see below, pp. 664–9, 670, 673–5). Imperial attention and resources could be devoted to those zones where external threats or internal rebellions arose, and in many ways this flexible arrangement worked. Defensive measures and diplomacy succeeded in repulsing or deterringNorman incursions into Dalmatia and beyond for some time after their seizure of southern Italy. Byzantine emperors also exploited divisions within the Hungarian royal family to curb rising Hungarian power. Manuel I Komnenos even appropriated a strategically significant portion of theHungarian lands for a while (see below, pp. 642, 684–5). Yet as Stephenson shows, the emperors’ hold over much of the Balkan interior was loose-meshed, andManuel’s preoccupation with the intentions ofwell-resourced Latin potentates and crusading ventures reflects awareness of this. But diplomatic d´emarches cost gold, and westerners were no longer bought cheaply or lastingly. The Byzantines generally tried to reconcile non-Greek-speaking populations to their rule by keeping taxes low. But in 1185–6, resentment over higher taxes fuelled an uprising of ethnic notables and provincial Greek-speakers, which took on separatist tendencies and transmuted into the resurrection of an independent Bulgarian power (see below, pp. 656, 687–8). The outlook for Byzantium’s eastern provinces was transformed abruptly by the coming of the Turks. By the mid-eleventh century, there was quite heavy reliance on local elites in the borderlands and a not unreasonable assumption that military threats from Islamic regions could be contained.48 The vigorous opportunism of Turkish chieftains and individual war-band leaders offset their lack of military cohesiveness and of regularly raised revenues. The drastic reform of military organisation needed to cope with the Turks was beyond the capacity of mid-eleventh-century Byzantine regimes (see below, pp. 600–1, 603, 607).Not that the empire was lacking in a series of outer zones on its eastern approaches any more than it was in the Balkans, as Dimitri Korobeinikov shows: Armenian local notables and the king of Georgia could still be enlisted to the imperial cause, George II (1072–89) being swayed by a sizable concession of strongholds and territories (see below, p. 705).Manuel I Komnenos was also adept at local-level diplomacy in Asia Minor and his personal ties with Turkish dynasts furthered stabilisation of the borders. Stability, however, made established rulers such as Kilij Arslan II (1156–92) even more militarily formidable, and Manuel’s attempt to overturn the Seljuq Turkish powerbase at Ikonion (Konya) led to crushing defeat at the battle of Myriokephalon in 1176 (see below, p. 716). Fortunately for the empire, the Seljuqs and other more established Turkish leaders showed little inclination to descend from their abodes 1,000 or so metres above sea-level in the Anatolian plateau. Not even the dissipation of imperial power after 1204 changed this state of affairs. The imperial Byzantine ‘rump state’ that formed around Nicaea co-existed fairly easily with the Seljuqs of Rum. It was theMongols’ arrival and pressure in eastern AsiaMinor that precipitated a chain reaction of migration among the Turcoman nomads and, in the early 1300s, the breakdown of residual Byzantine defences in the western coastal plains (see below, pp. 723–4, 726). This is yet another example of how far-away events could have drastic repercussions, upsetting the best efforts of the empire’s guardians.

 

 

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