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7-08-2015, 21:18

Rome as a ‘Byzantine province’

Three successive trends characterised the political situation. As elsewhere in its former dominions, Constantinople sought in the early eighth century to reintegrate Italy into the imperial structure, and so to restore late antique patterns of political domination. But local and distant forces conspired to loosen Constantinople’s grasp on the Italo-Byzantine societies. From the north, expanding Lombard power absorbed Ravenna in 751 and menaced Rome. The Franks would soon swallow the Po kingdom and extend the Lombard pattern into an attempt to restore a Roman empire in the west. They forcibly removed northern Italy from the Byzantine sphere and so strengthened its transalpine political, cultural and economic links that it looked much like the southernmost extension of northern Europe. The even greater vitality of the Islamic world capitalised on the complexities of southern Italy to drive Byzantium from Sicily and establish toeholds on the Italian mainland. Finally, the collapse of the Frankish empire combined with the resurgence of Byzantine power to shift the dynamics in a new direction so that, as far north as Rome, the late ninth-century peninsula again appeared as the northwestern edge of a southeastern Mediterranean world. If Italy was the key to Byzantine and western interaction, Rome was the key to Italy. The city’s cultural and religious significance outweighed its economic or strategic importance, although the wealth of its churches would tempt Arab and Frankish looters alike, and great prestige accrued to its master. It was uniquely suited to intensive cross-cultural contacts. Politically it lay on the fluctuating frontier of Byzantine and northern power zones. Culturally, it attracted pilgrims from all parts of the Christian world: Irish, Anglo-Saxons, Franks, Lombards, Byzantines, even Arabs made their way to its fabled shrines.59 Economically, the restored finances of theRoman church and wealthy pilgrims created a market for expensive imported goods that began flowing again on the main trunk routes. From 700 to 900, the elite culture of the ancient city changed. Around 725, the church of Rome was nearing the last generation of its ‘Byzantine period’, under the powerful influence of immigrants from the lost eastern provinces. The papal bureaucracy, the lay elite and the monasteries all show signs of Greek predominance, as some befuddled Anglo-Saxons learned in 704 when the papal advisers they were meeting began joking and discussing the matter among themselves in Greek.60 The city producedGreek literature, including a papal translation ofGregory the Great’s Dialogues, and the Miracles of Anastasius, while surviving fragments suggest that Greek inscriptions were not uncommon.61 The public face of the papal court owed much to Byzantine provincial officialdom, naturally enough given the prominence of descendants of refugees from the eastern upheavals. Although the process is difficult to track, such families must increasingly have assimilated the local language, even as innovations rooted in the immigration flourished: the name stock of the Roman elite, new saints’ cults and liturgical feasts like the Assumption are all imports from the east.62 From about the middle of the eighth century Latin prevails, but a Greek heritage perdured: the person who forged theDonation of Constantine wrote a Greek-accented Latin, and Pope Paul I (757–67) supplied Pippin the Short with Greek books.63 Two or three generations later, the Greek presence at Rome appears to have been concentrated in the monasteries, which had received fresh reinforcements fleeing the upheavals in the Byzantine church. Papal distributions to the monastic establishments of the eternal city reveal that in 807, six of the most important monasteries and one convent were Greek.64 A fragment from their liturgical services shows that one community used the Greek liturgy associated with Jerusalem when praying for Pope Hadrian I (772–95).65 Around the same time, a native Greek speaker who probably resided in one of those communities contributed to Byzantine literature a remarkable hagiographical novel set in Rome and Sicily in the days of Gregory the Great (590–604).66 In the later ninth century, some Roman aristocrats may still have felt nostalgia for Byzantine rule, Anastasius Bibliothecarius may have been able to compare different manuscripts of Pseudo- Dionysius the Areopagite in Rome, and the occasional Greek monk might work purple cloth or copy texts there. But the instruction in and use of Greek were becoming rarer and more private.67 As Roman ambassadors insisted in Constantinople in 870, some churches under Roman jurisdiction were Greek in language, and clergy appointed to them were chosen for their linguistic qualifications.68 But Anastasius, with his command of both languages, stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. By 900 immigration from the east had shrunk to undetectable levels and the old Greek monasticism of Rome was entering its final decline even as Byzantine power surged in the south.69 In some ways, the very recovery of the imperial centre distanced the two societies; a reorganising empire sought to tighten slackened links with provincial society by restoring old standards of political, fiscal and religious integration and subordination long in abeyance and now newly resented. A carrot and stick approach seems unmistakable: c. 710 Justinian II violently repressed a rebellion in Ravenna and blinded and exiled its archbishop Felix; later the same prelate was restored and enriched. Pope Constantine (708–15) and his entourage were summoned to Constantinople for a yearlong consultation and celebration of unity, during which the future Pope Gregory II’s theological expertise impressed the emperor, who confirmed earlier privileges of the Roman church, while imperial envoys arrested and executed the papal officials who had stayed behind in Rome.70

 

 

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