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7-08-2015, 21:30


Over the two centuries Byzantiumís position in Italy had turned virtually full circle, from the outwardly hopeful but in practice precarious position of 680, to the verge of a new period of power and influence in the late ninth century. Despite, and in some measure because of, the short-lived political and ecclesiastical peace which prevailed at the beginning, discontent and separatist feeling had grown rapidly. As a result of the election of local military leaders as duces, the power of the emperor and his representative, the exarch, had become marginal from the late 720s. The fall of Ravenna in 751 was only one stage in the fragmentation of the Byzantine territories, but it did promote distinct development in each area.Only in the theme of Sicily and the associated duchies of Calabria andOtranto was traditional imperial control effective, assisted by a steady process of hellenisation. In Venetia and the various component parts of the duchy ofNaples, nominal loyalty to the empire survived side by side with growing economic sophistication and political independence under leaders chosen locally from the traditional military elite. Elsewhere, as in the exarchate, the Pentapolis and duchy of Rome, the predominant power came into the hands of senior churchmen, but these had to work out a modus vivendi with lay aristocratic families, and with the Frankish rulers of the kingdom of Italy after 774. In each area, however, developments were conditioned by the decentralisation underway as early as the seventh century; and distinctive traditions and institutions, more often Roman than strictly Byzantine, remained powerful, as can be seen in the persistence of titles, names and legal institutions. IfByzantiumís power and influencewere in decline for most of the period, it remained a force to be reckoned with, as can be seen in its successful defence of its interests in Venetia, and the preoccupation of both the Franks and the popes with their relations with the empire. In the economic, artistic and literary spheres, Byzantiumís impact was as considerable as ever, and was channelled through Rome as much as through the nominally Byzantine centres. Byzantine naval power was always significant, and it is this which especially enabled the empire to come into its own again as a player on the Italian scene in the second half of the ninth century. Byzantiumís position was reinforced by the devastation of the Arab raids; by disenchantment with Frankish political and military weakness; and by the aggressive yet pragmatic policy pursued by Michael III (842Ė67) and Basil I (867Ė86). The reconquest of much of the Lombard territories in Apulia, Calabria and Lucania, including Bari and Taranto (retaken in 876 and 880 respectively) ushered in a new era of Byzantine domination in southern Italy.