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7-08-2015, 21:24

The last decades of byzantine rule

The late seventh century also saw a crisis in the economic position of the Byzantine territories of Italy. The loss of Carthage to the Arabs and the general weakening of imperial power led to a dramatic decline in imports such as pottery fromAfrica and the east, and to an increase in the importance of local Italian centres of production. This readjustment is reflected in finds from recently excavated sites such as Crypta Balbi in Rome, although luxury imports from the east remained important, and building activity, particularly of churches, continued at a significant level.6 On a political level, the delicate equilibrium was soon upset by the autocracy and impetuosity which the youthful Emperor Justinian II displayed in his first reign (685–95). After a brief honeymoon period with the papacy,7 in 691–2 the emperor convoked a council in Constantinople, the quinisext, or council in Trullo, which promulgated a number of canons in conflict with the customs of the Roman church (see above, p. 245). Faced with resistance from Pope Sergius I (687–701), Justinian resorted to the same strong-arm tactics which his grandfather had attempted against Martin I (649–55) (see above, p. 232). On this occasion, however, military contingents from Ravenna and the Pentapolis intervened to prevent Sergius’ arrest by the pr¯ otospatharios Zacharias.8 The antagonism of Ravenna towards Justinian found expression in 695, when a number of its citizens resident in Constantinople joined in the emperor’s deposition and mutilation.9 Italian hostility to the empire was visible again in 701, when ‘the army of all Italy’ moved to protect Pope John VI (701–5) against the newly appointed exarch Theophylact, who had presumably been sent to Rome by Emperor Tiberius II Apsimar (698–705) to pressurise the pontiff into accepting the quinisext decrees.10 The situation deteriorated further when Justinian recovered his throne with Bulgar help in 705. The chronology and motives of imperial policy are far from clear.However, it is likely that while he harboured plans for revenge against Ravenna, his approach to Rome was more accommodating. Papal support was seen as crucial to the emperor’s desire for political and religious unity, and the see of Rome appears to have enjoyed enhanced power as the representative of imperial authority in Rome.11 Pope John VII (705–7), the son of aGreek official, was offered a compromise over the quinisext decrees, which he refused. The pope then proceeded to establish a papal palace on the previously imperial preserve of the Palatine hill, and carried out a lavish programme of artistic production, best reflected in the superb frescoes of the church of SantaMaria Antiqua (fig. 30).12 The strongly ‘Byzantine’ character of John’s programme lends support to the notion of a positive element to relations between Justinian and the pope. For example, the emperor appears to have sided with Rome in a renewed conflict with its fractious suffragan, Ravenna. At his ordination in 709 the city’s archbishop, Felix, refused to offer the traditional pledges of loyalty to the pope, and with the support of the (by now independent-minded) Ravenna officials (iudices) submitted his own version. The emperor’s despatch of a punitive expedition led by the patrician Theodore, strat¯egos of Sicily, can best be seen as retribution for the snub to papal authority, rather than vengeance for Ravennate opposition to the emperor in 693 or 695.13 By a ruse Theodore succeeded in arresting Felix and the leading citizens of Ravenna, who were taken to Constantinople and tortured.14 In fear of further moves by Justinian the remaining citizens organised an elaborate local defence force under an elected duke named George.15 It is probable that this new force caused the ‘revolting death’ suffered by John Rizokopos when he sought to take up his post as exarch in Ravenna late in 710.16 The whole episode led to a turning-point in Ravenna’s relations with the empire: the general allegiance associated with benign imperial laissez-faire in the late seventh century turned to marked antipathy and an even more marginal role for the exarchs in the eighth. It is hardly surprising that there was rejoicing in Ravenna when the emperor was deposed and his severed head was transported to Italy.17 A rapprochement between Rome and the empire was achieved in early 711, when Pope Constantine I (708–15) visited Constantinople, being honourably received by Justinian II and accorded privileges.However, Justinian appears to have been playing a double game: during the pope’s absence the newly appointed exarch John Rizokopos had executed four prominent papal officials, presumably to punish advisers considered anti-imperial and to intimidate the pope.18 Justinian was assassinated in December 711 and relations between Rome and Constantinople deteriorated during the short reign of his successor, Emperor Philippikos (711–13), who was refused recognition in Rome on the grounds of his monophysite sympathies. As the de facto authority in the city, Constantine had to make peace between the warring factions.19 An improvement in relations followed Philippikos’ deposition in 713, but once again events made this short-lived. After years of instability the Lombard kingdom became a potent force under King Liutprand (712–44), who adopted a policy of unifying the peninsula under Lombard rule.Meanwhile the empire came under renewed pressure from the Arabs, culminating in a year-long siege of Constantinople. In Sicily the strat¯egos Sergios, in apparent despair of the empire’s survival, rebelled and proclaimed a certain Basil Onomagoulos emperor. Emperor Leo III (717–41) responded by sending an expedition under a replacement strat¯egos, Paul, and Sergios was forced to seek refuge among the Lombards of southern Italy (see below, p. 461). More serious was the Lombards’ exploitation of the empire’s difficulties. In 717 the duke of Benevento seized Cumae, the duke of Spoleto occupied Narni, and the king himself invaded the exarchate and occupied Classe. Although the loss of Narni proved permanent, Liutprand promptly withdrew from Classe and the Roman pontiff Gregory II (715–31) was able to recover Cumae. Once his position in the east was secure, Leo III attempted to reassert the empire’s authority in Italy. In 724 or 725 the emperor imposed an increase in taxation which hit the papal patrimonies particularly hard; they had hitherto been exempted from fiscal burdens by a privilege of Constantine IV.20 In the light of Gregory’s opposition, a plot to kill the pontiff was hatched by imperial duces in collaboration with papal officials. When this failed, the exarch Paul sent forces backing another plot on the pope’s life. However, the Romans, together with the Lombards of Spoleto and Benevento, rallied to the pope’s defence and forced the exarch’s troops to withdraw. Stronger resistance arose to Leo III’s publication of decrees prohibiting the veneration of icons in 727. Gregory II’s vehement reaction is reflected in the words of both the Liber pontificalis – ‘he took up arms against the emperor as if against an enemy’21 – and the Byzantine chronicler Theophanes – ‘he removed Rome and all Italy from his [Leo III’s] rule’.22 In areas such as Venetia and the Pentapolis this dispute reinforced existing discontent and prompted local army units to revolt and elect their own duces. When the notion was mooted of electing a rival emperor and setting him up in Constantinople, however, Gregory refused his support in the hope that Leo could still be won back to orthodoxy, and urged the empire’s subjects ‘not to renounce their love and loyalty to the Roman empire’.23 Serious divisions soon appeared within the Byzantine provinces. While in Rome the population killed one pro-imperial duke and blinded another, in the duchy of Naples iconoclasm appears to have attracted widespread support;24 in the exarchate there was serious conflict between pro- and anti-Byzantine factions, costing the exarch Paul his life.25 Gregory’s position reflects not only the durability of the imperial ideal in the absence of any ideological alternative, but also his need to retain a protector against the Lombards, still regarded as barbarians intent on exploiting the situation to dominate the peninsula. In fact, while the dukes of Spoleto and Benevento showed solidarity with the pontiff, King Liutprand seized western portions of the exarchate. Later in the same year (727) a new exarch, Eutychios, disembarked in Naples but was unable to enter Rome or to enforce his authority there.26 When Liutprand moved south to establish control over Spoleto and Benevento, he and Eutychios found it expedient to make a surprising alliance against the pope.However,Gregory was able to play upon the king’s catholic piety to induce him to leave for the north, and a revolt in Roman Etruria in 728 gave Gregory an opportunity to demonstrate his continuing loyalty to the imperial ideal. The pope encouraged the exarch to defeat and capture the usurper, Tiberius Petasius, and Eutychios then also headed north in order to reimpose imperial control over Ravenna. The empire’s position was soon undermined by Leo III’s promulgation of stronger decrees against icons in 730 (see above, p. 279). After diplomatic remonstrations failed, the new pope, Gregory III (731–41), summoned a council in Rome in December 731 which resolutely upheld the iconodule position. Leo III responded by transferring the papal provinces of southern Italy, Sicily and Illyricum to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople. However the attitude of the pope and the imperial authorities in Italy was surprisingly conciliatory. While Gregory took a principled stand in opposing iconoclasm and imperial persecution in the east, in practice he cooperated with Eutychios in defending the Italian provinces against the Lombards. In turn the exarch appears to have made no attempt to impose the iconoclast decrees in Italy and even sent the pope a gift of onyx columns for St Peter’s. Eutychios’ alliance with Liutprand had proved short-lived, and imperial forces even attempted to recover some of the Lombard conquests. Lombard forces occupied Ravenna at an uncertain date in the midor late 730s, forcing Eutychios to flee to Venice. Possibly after the failure of an imperial expedition to recover the city, Pope Gregory III wrote to the duke of Venetia and the patriarch of Grado requesting their help in restoring Ravenna ‘to the holy republic and the imperial service of our sons Leo [III] and Constantine [V]’.27 A Venetian fleet duly recovered the city. In 739 Thrasamund II, duke of Spoleto, captured the stronghold of Gallese from the duchy of Rome. Gregory III resorted to negotiation to recover it for ‘the holy republic and the Christ-loved Roman army’.28 Thrasamund then rebelled against King Liutprand and, when ejected from his duchy by royal troops, sought refuge in Rome. In his fury the Lombard king then devastated the area around Rome and seized four strategic strongholds on the Flaminian Way, prompting Gregory to appeal to the Frankish mayor of the palace, Charles Martel. When Liutprand returned northwards, Thrasamund was able to recover his duchy with Roman support. Gregory’s successor, the Greek-born Zacharias (741–52), had to deal with another period of uncertainty when the more militantly iconoclast ConstantineV( 741–75) was faced with a revolt by his brother-in-law Artabasdos. Liutprand appeared characteristically opportunistic in applying renewed pressure against both Spoleto and Rome. Zacharias resumed negotiations, obtained the four disputed castra, together with lost papal patrimonies in the Pentapolis and the duchy of Spoleto, and concluded a treaty of twenty years’ peace with the Lombard kingdom in 742. In the following year Liutprand prepared to attack Ravenna again, and in alarm the exarch Eutychios and the city’s archbishop appealed to the pope to intervene. Zacharias set off for Ravenna, where he was received with great honour by the exarch and population; he went on to Pavia, where in the summer of 743 he persuaded Liutprand to return most of the territories seized from the exarchate. The pope acted independently of the empire, and appears for the first time to have staked the kind of proprietorial claims to the exarchate he had already made to the duchy of Rome. Soon afterwards, in 743, Constantine V granted the pope two estates south of Rome, probably in order to restore the pope’s allegiance to his rule and to offer compensation for the loss of papal jurisdiction and property in 732/3 (see above, p. 285).

 

 

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