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7-08-2015, 23:51

The reign of constantine ix monomachos

In the twenty-five years following Basil II’s death the Byzantine empire had lost direction and momentum. The policy of military expansionism inherited from Basil II had little to commend it. Keeping the empire on a war footing was expensive. Cutting back on the armed forces was the simplest way of reducing expenditure. The Bulgarian rebellion, followed almost immediately by the 1042 uprising of the citizens of Constantinople against Michael V, was an urgent reminder that a new approach to government was needed. The new emperor, Constantine IX Monomachos, had an agenda: military expansionism seemed out of place at a time when the empire appeared to have secure frontiers, and Monomachos wished to cut back on the military establishment. To carry out his programme of reconstruction he turned to Constantine Leichoudes and the team of clever young men he had assembled about him. These included Michael Psellos, the future Patriarch John Xiphilinos and their teacher John Mauropous. The thrust of their reforms was to strengthen the civil administration of the empire and to simplify its military organisation.14 In frontier regions the local levies were stood down and defence was left to professional troops stationed at key points. The armies of the themes continued to exist but largely on paper. Provincial administration passed increasingly from the strat¯egos to a civilian official known as the judge or the prait¯or. This had been an ad hoc development over the preceding fifty-odd years. Monomachos regularised it by creating a new ministry at Constantinople under the epi t¯on krise¯on, to which the civilian administrators were now responsible. It completed a process of demilitarising provincial government.15 Constantine IX Monomachos’ propagandists presented his reforms in the guise of a renovatio of the empire. Imperial revivals punctuated Byzantine history. Normally, they centred on a new codification of the law. The Isaurians issued the Ecloga (see above, pp. 275–6), theMacedonians the Basilika (see above, pp. 301–2). Monomachos judged the Basilika to be more than adequate. What was lacking was an effective legal education. This was either picked up informally or was in the hands of the guild of notaries. Monomachos therefore instituted as the centrepiece of his reforms an imperial law school, placing it under the direction of a new official called the nomophylax and appointing John Xiphilinos as the first holder of the office. It was opened in 1047 and attached to theMangana complex.Monomachos also created the post of consul of the philosophers for Michael Psellos. His duties included supervision of the schools of Constantinople. This measure was designed to bring educational establishments in the capital under more effective government control. Education was at the heart ofMonomachos’ reforms.16 However admirable, Monomachos’ reform programme was not carried out in full, for it offended too many existing interests. John Xiphilinos found himself under pressure from the legal establishment and preferred to retire to monastic seclusion on BithynianOlympus. JohnMauropous, appointed bishop of Euchaita in deepest Anatolia, treated this as a form of exile, which indeed it was. At the same time, conditions along Byzantium’s borders were changing rapidly. The Pechenegs were dislodged from the Black Sea steppes by the Uzes, nomads from further east. In the winter of 1046–7 the main body of Pechenegs crossed the Danube, seeking refuge on Byzantine soil, somewhat as the Goths had done seven centuries earlier. The settlement of the Pechenegs was equally mishandled. Constantine IX Monomachos was forced to send out a series of expeditions to pacify them. They had little success. The upshot was that the Pechenegs were left in possession of large tracts of the Balkans. Around the same time the Seljuq Turks began to make their presence felt along the eastern frontier. In 1048 they laid siege to Ani, the Armenian capital, which had recently been annexed by the Byzantines. The Turks might have been thwarted on this occasion, but it was a taste of things to come. The tide was also turning against Byzantium in southern Italy, as Norman freebooters harried Byzantine territories from their base at Melfi where they had established themselves in 1041. The rapidly changing conditions in the empire’s frontier provinces meant that Constantine IXMonomachos had to improvise. Experience had taught him that they were danger zones. They had been the launching pad for the two most serious revolts he had to face. The first came early in his reign and was the work of George Maniakes who had been sent as supreme military commander to Byzantine Italy by Michael V. He was suspicious of the new regime, if only because his great enemy Romanos Skleros was close toMonomachos.He crossed over to Albania in 1043 and advanced on Thessaloniki down the EgnatianWay.His troops brushed aside the imperial armies sent to oppose him, but in the hour of victory he was mysteriously killed and the revolt fizzled out. The centre of the other revolt was the major military base of the southern Balkans, Adrianople. Its leader was Leo Tornikios, a nephew of the emperor. In the autumn of 1047 he advanced on Constantinople and only the emperor’s coolness saved the day. There are good reasons to suppose that underlying this revolt was dissatisfaction on the part of the military families of Adrianople withMonomachos’ policies. The emperor was cutting back on military expenditure while recruiting detachments of Pechenegs to serve on the eastern frontier. Constantine IXMonomachos had to devise some way of neutralising the danger from discontented generals. In southern Italy he turned to a local leader called Argyros, who despite his Greek name was a Lombard. He had seized the city of Bari in 1040 and proclaimed himself ‘prince and duke of Italy’, but he had opposed Maniakes’ rebellion. Monomachos was grateful and brought him and his family to Constantinople. Argyros again proved his loyalty to the emperor in 1047 when he helped defend Constantinople against LeoTornikios. In 1051Monomachos sent Argyros to Italy as supreme commander, an appointment which showed thatMonomachos was willing to work through the local elites, rather than relying on Byzantine governors. Such a policy seemed to offer two advantages: it should have reconciled local opinion to rule from Constantinople, as well as leading to some relaxation of the grip exerted by the imperial administration. This may have been deliberate. The changing political conditions along the Byzantine frontiers would have alerted the imperial government to one of the disadvantages of the military expansionism espoused by Basil II. Byzantium was left exposed to new forces gathering strength beyond its frontiers. Byzantium had been more secure when protected by independent territories in Bulgaria and Armenia, however irksome they could seem at times. By working through Argyros, Monomachos seems to have been trying to shed some of the responsibilities for frontier defence which now burdened his government at Constantinople.He seems to have been trying to do something of the same kind in the Balkans and Anatolia with his attempts at settling Pechenegs and Armenians. But these efforts were mismanaged and only produced friction with the local population. Disengagement is always one of the most difficult political feats to carry off. Constantine IXMonomachos’ reign was pivotal. It is scarcely any wonder that later contemporaries unanimously blamed him for the disasters suffered by the empire later on in the eleventh century. He had a programme for the restoration of the empire and it failed. The programme was well conceived, but was not able to survive a combination of internal opposition and changes occurring along the empire’s frontiers, and its failure left the empire adrift. Around 1050 Monomachos dismissed Leichoudes, the architect of his reforms. His last years were characterised by an oppressive fiscal regime in a vain effort to restore the empire’s finances.

 

 

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