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7-08-2015, 23:41

Byzantine links with the western christians, 900–950

Byzantium’s relations with the Latinwest in this period have a ‘Cheshire cat’ character in comparison with ninth-century exchanges. Very little attention is paid to the Christian west by Byzantine writers even when Saxon potentates begin to intervene in Italy and bedeck themselves with imperial trimmings. A memorandum of diplomatic procedures, compiled partly from older materials in the mid-tenth century, lists the standard form of address for letters to various reges, of ‘Gaul’ as well as Bavaria and Saxony: each is to be addressed as ‘spiritual brother’, unlike the numerous other addressees. But the protocols for receptions of ambassadors make no special provision for western ones: formulaic greetings for envoys from the Bulgarians and eastern Muslims are rehearsed, presumably because their visits were more important or frequent.1 A somewhat later compilation would probably have paid western ambassadors little more attention than the Book of ceremonies did on the eve of the imperial coronation of Otto I (962–73). For Basil II (976–1025), as for his predecessors, the existence of a rival Bulgarian basileus mattered more. But if events beyond the Adriatic were generally of secondary importance to Byzantium’s rulers, the very powers which troubled them in the Balkans or hindered communications with the west obliged the empire to maintain far-flung bases from which to disrupt their activities. Byzantine claims in Italy were based on quite recent military actions and not merely on the inheritance of the old Roman empire. TheDe administrando imperio recognises the territorial losses to the Lombards, but stresses the help which Basil I (867–86) had provided against the Arabs, and claims imperial authority over Capua and Benevento on the strength of ‘this great benefit rendered to them’ then.2 Great expectations continued to be vested in Sicily. Byzantine bases there provided platforms for speedy d´emarches towards any figure of note in Italy or even southern Francia, and a ready means of monitoring and hindering the passage of Arab vessels, a capability not open to Christian magnates lacking fleets. The De thematibus, a work commissioned by Constantine VII, claims that Sicily is ‘now’ under Byzantine rule ‘since the emperor of Constantinople rules the sea as far as the Pillars of Hercules’.3 This should be inverted: a presence in Sicily gave Byzantium disproportionate influence and status in the western Mediterranean world, and to abandon claims to it would have been demeaning. Thus strat¯egoi residing in Calabria were officially designated governors of ‘Sicily’ through the first half of the tenth century (see below, p. 568). Sicily was, together with Calabria and Illyricum, under the patriarch of Constantinople, and contacts with orthodox monks and churchmen on the island persisted. Partly because of this, the Byzantine military position was not utterly hopeless: Taormina fell to the Arabs in 902, but was regained by 912–13; it was only fully taken over by the Arabs in 962. If imperial ambitions showed great resilience, loss of control of the straits of Messina had in reality eroded Byzantium’s capacity for intervention in Rome or further north. Expeditionary forces or major diplomatic d´emarches could no longer be funded from the island, and Calabria was too poor and too harassed by Sicilian Arab razzias to provide much in the way of resources before the end of the tenth century. Byzantium thus had greater need of allies in the west and there were indeed periodic contacts between Constantinople and several western courts. The temerity of Muslim raiders and the existence of stray Arab colonies further north could affront the Christian sensibilities and prestige of enough parties for joint action to be attempted, but actual operations were rare. Those best-placed to provide effective land forces were the very Lombard princes whose patrimonies had been most impaired by the Byzantine recovery in southern Italy. Only after skilful negotiation and manoeuvring by Nicholas Picingli, the strat¯egos of Langobardia, and by Pope John X (914–28), could the lords of Gaeta and Naples be induced to cooperate with Capua-Benevento, Roman nobles and Picingli’s fleet and army to expel the Arabs from the Garigliano valley. The coalition captured the Saracens’ base in August 915, but did not long survive its victory. Soon Landulf I of Capua-Benevento (901–43) and other Lombard princes were in ‘rebellion’, raiding Byzantine possessions in southern Italy and regaining control of much of them (see below, p. 563). Otherwise, few important western rulers had interests which clashed or converged with Byzantium’s strongly enough for intensive relations to be maintained with them. The main fixed points on the Byzantine political map were cities. Venice’s interests were aligned quite closely with the empire’s and its ruling families were willing to designate themselves as servi (douloi in Greek), a vague term ranging in meaning from ‘slave’ to ‘subordinate’ of the emperor. The basileus felt no need to show particular favour towards the managers of Venice, being well aware of the Venetians’ need of the sea for protection, sustenance and income. Reliance on the import of bulk goods made them vulnerable to famine or financial ruin since merchantmen were small, unwieldy and even in summer scarcely seaworthy. Byzantium was the obvious and most lucrative of the limited outlets available to the Venetians for their re-export of weaponry, wood and slaves, while Byzantine luxury goods were much in demand among the elites of north Italian towns. The deficiencies of navigation and the revitalised Byzantine presence along the island-studded Dalmatian coastline thus made Venetian maritime communications highly sensitive to the actions of the imperial authorities. Fortunately for the Venetians, it was in Byzantium’s interests to foster a self-financing and largely self-reliant naval capability on the outermost fringe of its Adriatic possessions, since this relieved it from maintaining a significant fleet of its own there. Each party stood to gain from the status quo, in which direct contacts between Constantinople and the northern Adriatic were monopolised by the Venetians, while taxed and supervised by the Byzantine government. The Venetians’ returns were substantial, and guaranteed access to secure markets in Constantinople helped to offset the delays and losses of the sea voyage. The Venetians also tended to profit from their ability, very rare among westerners, to monitor events in Constantinople, and some, at least, could speak Greek. Even Venice, however, ranked fairly low in Byzantine priorities and its rulers’ compliance was assumed. Of far greater weight was the city of Rome, with its indelible imperial connotations and especially its role as the residence of the pope. The importance attached to the papacy is demonstrated by the protocols for the reception of envoys: those for ‘ambassadors’ from the pope feature first, and are detailed and full.4 Long-standing tradition played its part here, but there was also a more dynamic reason. The pope was the sole western figure who could intervene substantively in the empire’s affairs and within its sphere of influence. Apulia’s subjection to papal jurisdiction was not formally disputed, and as the population was mostly Lombards under Latin priests and bishops it was imperative for the Byzantine government to keep in touch with its spiritual leader. In the Byzantine ‘mainland’ the papacy’s reputation had been enhanced by its stand against iconoclasm. Orthodox monks and holy men continued to make their way to venerate Rome’s churches and the tombs of Sts Peter and Paul; eastern churchmen were in contact with the Greek monasteries – still prominent, although not numerous – in Rome, and also with the curia. Papal verdicts on religious questions mattered; hence emperors, too, looked to the papacy in their efforts to manage their own patriarchate. Romanos I Lekapenos (920–44) seemingly regarded papal support as pivotal to his plan to impose his son, Theophylact, as the patriarch of Constantinople (933–56), and papal legates carried out the act of enthronement on 2 February 933. There was another equally cogent reason for the intensity of imperial relations with Rome. The papacy was slow to abandon hopes of Bulgaria. In papal eyes, Bulgaria fell within Illyricum, a province rightfully under its jurisdiction. Symeon of Bulgaria’s (893–927) imperial pretensions and his later hostility towards Romanos I may have made him seem amenable to papal overtures, as PatriarchNicholas IMystikos (901–7, 912–25) apparently suspected when, in the early 920s, he detained two papal emissaries whose declared aim was to persuade Symeon to make peace with Byzantium. Symeon’s proclamation of himself as ‘emperor of the Romans’ may well have been known to the papacy. The papal legates who mediated between Symeon and Tomislav of Croatia in 926–7 may have investigated a possible accommodation between pope and self-declared emperor.5 The papacy had originally been responding to an approach from Tomislav, Symeon’s enemy, and papal interest in south Slav affairs need not have been wholly repugnant to the imperial government at that time. Nonetheless, the papacy’s title to Illyricum could have made for some sort of concordat between Rome and a Bulgarian ruler seeking recognition. All this underlay the golden bulls for, and ritual attention to, ‘the spiritual father of our holy emperor’.6 Formal exchanges were probably accompanied by multifarious unofficial contacts with other churchmen and notables in Rome. The pope might thus be deflected from undesirable initiatives and his undeniable authority put to the emperor’s own uses; papal approval of Theophylact’s appointment is said to have been bought by Romanos. The benefits to the emperor of papal cooperation made others’ interventions in Rome a matter of some concern, since they might yoke the papacy to their own ambitions, seeking the irritatingly grandiose title of emperor. Yet such interventions might also provide leverage over a recalcitrant pope. A masterful occupant of the Italian kingdom’s throne like Berengar of Friuli was uncongenial, but even Berengar’s imperial coronation in Rome in December 915 seems to have been received with equanimity on the Bosporus. If Byzantium showed a penchant for closer ties with more distant potentates in southern Francia, this probably sprang from an abiding concern about Sicily as well as from fears that a Lombardy-based ‘emperor’ might intervene more persistently in Roman affairs. For the basileus nurtured a dream of his own: with the cooperation of a southern Frankish ruler, the chances of driving Arab predators from their bases and eventually isolating and subduing the occupiers of Sicily became slightly less remote. There is suggestive evidence from a mid-tenth-century diplomatic memorandum that the emperor maintained contacts with the arch¯on of Sardinia.7 Greek inscriptions there suggest that court titles were still being sported by members of the ruling elite towards the end of the century.8 If, as is likely, Leo VI’s (886–912) infant daughter Anna was betrothed to Louis the Blind of Provence around 899–900, shortly before the fall of Taormina to the Arabs, the two episodes may be related. This commitment of the emperor’s only daughter to a western spouse may not have led to actual marriage, and anyway did not yield tangible aid for the Byzantines. Relations were distant and Romanos I seems to have responded tepidly to an embassy from Hugh of Arles; upon being crowned king of Italy in Pavia in 926, Hugh ‘took care to make his name known even to the Greeks placed far from us’.9 Emperor Romanos showed keen interest in the marriage of one of his sons into the leading Roman family which included Pope John XI (931– 5) himself, his half-brother and enemy Alberic, and their forceful mother Marozia. An imperial letter of early February 933 offers more warships to ferry Marozia’s daughter, the bride-to-be, to Constantinople and shows willingness to entertain John’s request for help.10 But the letter was already out-of-date by the time of writing: Marozia herself had married Hugh of Arles and he had come to Rome, only for them both to be expelled by Alberic and the citizens under his command. Alberic now sought a marriage-tie, but by then Romanos was looking for an ally against the Muslim corsairs and the Lombard princes in southern Italy. A mission acknowledging Hugh as rh¯ex Italias was despatched in 935, with money, dress tunics and objets d’art for him and his magnates; in return they were to attack the Lombard ‘rebels’.11 The subsequent operations were successful and Hugh, from his base in northern Italy, established close relations with Romanos. But the commander of the mission had received contingency instructions in case Hugh sent an army without leading it in person; he was also supplied with a reserve of costumes, presumably for others whom he might find serviceable. Such flexibility was of the essence. In late 944 or early 945 Byzantine warships attacked Fraxinetum and destroyed many Muslim boats with Greek fire, acting in response to a request from Hugh. Romanos had made his assistance conditional upon a marriage-tie: Hugh was to give one of his daughters in marriage to the infant son of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, also calledRomanos, the futureRomanos II (959–63). Liudprand of Cremona regarded the threat to the Byzantine south from the Lombard princes as underlying Romanos’ request.12 Hugh, lacking a legitimate daughter, sent Bertha, his child by a concubine. She was brought to Constantinople in the late summer of 944 and the two children were married; Bertha was given the new eastern Christian name of Eudocia. There is a tone of family feeling and pride in the sketch of Bertha- Eudocia’s lineage provided in the De administrando imperio, a work commissioned and partly written by her father-in-law, Constantine VII.13 In 948, after the death ofHugh, Constantine wrote to Berengar of Ivrea, urging him to act as faithful guardian of the late king’s son, Lothar. But at the same time he wrote another letter, urging Berengar to send an ambassador who would return with proof of Constantine’s love for Berengar.14 Constantine was discreetly shifting towards the more important figure in Italy: Berengar was already sidelining Lothar. Even the injunctions to protect Lothar – who might, at around twenty years of age, have been expected to fend for himself – were somewhat double-edged. The emperor had to preserve decorum but also to do business with whoever prevailed in northern Italy or Rome, so long as they did not persistently offend against his interests. His main concern at that time was the reconquest of Crete; elsewhere in theMediterranean he sought tranquillity. Liudprand, who had travelled with an envoy of Otto I, reached Constantinople during or just after the expedition, and the diplomatic activity he records turned essentially onCrete. Constantine’s sense of kinship withHugh’s family could not outweigh the requirements of Crete. Any possible tensions between sentiment and strategy were relieved by the timely deaths of Bertha-Eudocia in 949 and Lothar in 950.

 

 

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