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7-08-2015, 21:22


Despite the renewed dynamism of the Byzantine south, Italy from Rome northwards was now fastened to transalpine Europe to an extent and in ways no one could have imagined in 700. Venice was well on its way to becoming a distinctively Italo-Byzantine amalgam and a gateway city to the populations of the Po basin and across the Alps. The issue of the imperial legacy and legitimacy was posed and would rarely leave the forefront of diplomatic relations. Rome’s paper victory in defending its ecclesiastical claims to Illyricum would be swept aside by the Bulgaro-Byzantine confrontation and the Hungarian attacks. While Greek monasticism in the environs of Rome would not cease altogether, the dynamic provincial society of Byzantine Calabria probably provided a more characteristic note than Constantinople. Byzantium’s interaction with the west appears chiefly political and cultural. Economic links to the imperial metropolis seem distinctly secondary. But whatever the kind of interaction, Italy was pivotal, simultaneously a privileged locus of encounter and the stakes of competition. Three essential zones appeared there: the Po–Adriatic basin; Rome and vicinity; and the Byzantine south. Other secondary, eccentric zones of encounter followed the itinerant human networks that were the Frankish courts; farther afield, significant contacts certainly occurred between westerners and Byzantines in Jerusalem. Generally speaking, the extent to which transalpine Europe controlled parts of Italy was the chief factor affecting the intensity of political and direct cultural interaction north of the Alps. Such contacts first peaked between 756 and 768. They intensified again in the 780s and once more in the first three decades of the ninth century. After that, the possibility for Constantinople to deal directly with a Carolingian ruler in Italy made this kind of contact more sporadic. The sociology of interaction suggests mostly an affair of elites. But this social slant may in part be the product of our aristocratically minded source material. The content of exchanges is pretty clear. Elite lifestyle concerns played an important role; westerners imported eastern political rituals and symbols, liturgical pieces, theological treatises, and political and military support where Byzantium’s capacities complemented but did not threaten their own. Constantinople was interested in obtaining political support on its own terms, as well as western warriors. The religious traditions of Rome provided useful sanctions to competing factions of the Constantinopolitan elite, while the inability of Constantinople to project its power there made it a safe haven for dissidents. Both societies avidly discovered each other’s saints and the texts describing their wonders. The Greek church of Jerusalem sought Frankish wealth for its own local purposes, even as the semi-autonomous Byzantine outposts of Italy provided inoffensive gobetweens linking the huge economy of the house of Islam, a resurgent Byzantium and a recovering west. In this crucial period of some seven generations, communications began picking up again, as Byzantium and the west began again to know one another. In so doing, each began to discover with amazement how different the sibling had become. Like the creed, once-identical shared traditions had begun to show slight variations which were all the more disturbing for the substantial sameness of their backgrounds. The Photian schism had been overcome, but these centuries’ interaction left scars; the issues of papal primacy, the filioque and disciplinary divergences between Rome and Constantinople were so many ticking time-bombs, awaiting future moments of tension. And the Carolingian claim to have restored theRoman empire, despite brief periods of mutual acceptance, constituted a permanent challenge to all that was essential to the Byzantine identity. The stage was set for the cooperation and competition that would mark the future of Byzantium’s interaction with the west.