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7-08-2015, 20:41

East and west: continuing links and growing divisions

Paradoxically, despite the waning of Byzantine power in the west, the latter continued to be vitally interested in the east. A ready market remained for imported luxury items; goods of Byzantine provenance were included in the early seventh-century ship burial at Sutton Hoo in East Anglia and Radegund, the founder of a convent at Poitiers, petitioned Justin II and his wife Sophia for a portion of the True Cross, which she duly received in 569 (see above, p. 123). At the end of the century, the letters of Pope Gregory the Great reveal a man who saw the empire as central to his world and who had a penchant for wine imported from Egypt, surely one of the few Italians in history of whom this could be said. Byzantine legislation was followed with attention. The Frank Chilperic I did not merely rejoice in the possession of gold medallions that Tiberius I sent him: an edict he issued shows an apparent dependence on a novella of the same emperor.37 Eastern liturgical practice was imitated; on the recommendation of the newly converted Visigothic king Reccared, the third council of Toledo prescribed in 589 that the creed was to be sung before the Lord’s Prayer and the taking of communion ‘according to the practice of the eastern churches’, apparently in imitation of Justin I’s requiring, at the beginning of his reign, that the creed be sung before the Lord’s Prayer. This is one of a number of indications of the increasingly Byzantine form of the public life of Spain towards the end of the sixth century. The chronicle of Marius of Avenches, written in Burgundy, is dated according to consulships and indictional years, until its termination in 581. Inscriptions in the Rhˆone Valley were still being dated according to consulships or indictional years in the early seventh century, and coins were being minted in the name of the emperor at Marseilles and Viviers as late as the reign of Heraclius (610–41). Whatever may be the merits of thinking in terms of ‘an obscure law of cultural hydraulics’, whereby streams of influence were occasionally released from the east to water the lower reaches of the west,38 there can be no doubt that the west remained open to Byzantine influence, nor that western authors such as Gregory of Tours and Venantius Fortunatus sought to keep abreast of eastern material in a way that few easterners reciprocated. Emperors, moreover, gave indications that they still regarded the west as important. The marriages which the emperor Tiberius arranged for his daughters are strong evidence of this, for whereas one of them married Maurice, the successful general who was to succeed Tiberius, another married Germanus, the son of the patricius whom Justinian had nominated to finish the war against theGoths in 550, and of hisGothic wifeMatasuentha. Tiberius made each of his sons-in-law caesar and, given the strong western associations of Germanus, it is tempting to see the emperor as having thought of a divisio imperii into east and west, something that never seems to have crossed Justinian’s mind. If this was Tiberius’ plan, nothing came of it; but his successor,Maurice, drew up a will appointing his elder son Theodosius as lord of Constantinople with power in the east, and his younger son Tiberius as emperor of old Rome with power in Italy and the islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Again, nothing came of this plan, but it was from Carthage thatHeraclius, the son of an exarch, launched his successful rebellion against Phocas in 610. It was later believed that at a difficult point in his reign the emperor Heraclius planned to flee to Africa, only being restrained by an oath the patriarch forced him to take. In the mid-seventh century Maximus the Confessor, a complex figure who in various ways links east and west, was accused of having had a vision in which he saw angels in heaven on both the east and the west; those on the west exclaimed ‘Gregory Augustus, may you conquer!’, and their voice was louder than the voices of those on the east.39 Surely, it may appear, relations between Byzantium and the west remained strong. But although the west retained a capacity to absorb Byzantine influences, and emperors after Justinian continued to think in terms of controlling the west, in other ways the sixth century saw the two parts of the former empire move further apart. Justinian’s wars had over-extended the empire, entailing a major weakening of its position on the northern and eastern frontiers, and as warfare continued against the Slavs, Avars and Persians there were few resources to spare for the west, where the territory controlled by Constantinople shrank to scattered coastal fringes. By the end of the century there was little trade between Carthage and Constantinople. East and west were drifting apart linguistically: there are no counterparts to a Boethius in the west or a Priscian in the east towards the end of the century. In his correspondence as pope, Gregory the Great complained of the quality of translators out of Latin in Constantinople and Greek in Rome: both sets translated word for word without regard for the sense of what they were translating.40 Byzantine historians after Procopius rapidly came to display a lack of knowledge of, or interest in, western affairs. Evagrius Scholasticus, writing towards the end of the sixth century, argued in favour of Christianity by comparing the fates of emperors before and after Constantine, a line of argument that could only be sustained by ignoring the later western emperors.41 The sources available to Theophanes, when he wrote his Chronicle in the early ninth century, allowed him to note the accession of almost every pope from the late third century to Benedict I in 575, but not of subsequent ones. Meanwhile Paul the Deacon, writing in the late eighth century, seems to have regarded Maurice as the first Greek among the emperors.42 One has the feeling that towards the end of the sixth century the west simply became less relevant to easterners. Meanwhile, thewest was going its ownway. The discontent manifested in Africa and Italy over the condemnation of the Three Chapters may plausibly be seen as reflecting unhappiness at the situation following the wars waged by Justinian. Increasingly, the Italians came to see their interests as not necessarily identical with those of the empire. In Spain, Justinian’s activities left a nasty taste in peoples’ mouths: the learned Isidore of Seville, writing in the early seventh century, denied not only ecumenical status to the council of 553, but also a place among Roman lawgivers to Justinian and patriarchal rank to the see of Constantinople. In Africa, the government’s inability to deal with the Berbers prepared the way for the loss of the province to the Arabs in the following century. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that in the sixth century Byzantium and the west moved significantly apart; one cannot but see the emperor Justinian as being largely to blame.