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7-08-2015, 23:36

Law and property

Yet prayer and book-learning were not enough to sustain a regime. The balance between piety and practicality ascribed to Basil I in the Life probably represents Constantine’s own line of thinking. One symbol of his concern for those beyond the City walls was the promulgation of laws valid throughout the empire. Eight are extant, at least one more known. A novella of 947 survives in versions addressing the themes of the Thrakesioi and the Anatolikoi, strengthening the sanctions and impediments on the purchase of land from ‘the poor’ by ‘the powerful’ laid down by Romanos in a novella of 934. Another attempts to protect the land-holdings of those enrolled to supply military service in the themes.54 There is little doubt that smaller peasant proprietors were increasingly alienating their lands to ‘the powerful’. But it is unclear how far they were acting involuntarily and how far they were trying to profit from a more active property market. The two explanations are not mutually incompatible and, taken together, they could imply a gradual increase of population and quickening of commercial transactions (albeit largely in agricultural produce) as Muslim land raids abated. It appears that ‘the powerful’ of keenest concern to the emperors were those trying to take over lands in the fertile coastal region of western AsiaMinor and also in the most strategically works associated with him. Diplomacy was an activity which a sedentary emperor could conduct highly effectively on his own account, and its ceremonial workings were focused on his mystique alone. But even as the compilation got under way, a military crisis developed in the east which was eventually to force Constantine to depart from the strategy of previous generations. The catalyst was Saif al-Dawla, a scion of the Hamdanid clan that had tightened its hold on Mosul and other prosperous parts of Mesopotamia, to the detriment of the caliph of Baghdad. By the end of 947 Saif was in firm control of Aleppo and its commercial wealth.He embarked on a series of devastating, if strategically insignificant, raids into AsiaMinor. The Byzantines responded to this energetic warlord on their borders with major reprisals, taking captives and razing the walls of foreposts such as Hadath and Germanikeia. Hadath, a fortress on a key pass leading towards Byzantine-occupiedMelitene, was the scene of several battles involving sizable Byzantine armies intent on demolishing the walls and Muslim units no less determined to defend or rebuild them. Bitter as the fighting was, it formed part of a broader strategy. At the same time as attempting to deny Saif secure bases, Byzantium sent embassies proposing truces and prisoner exchanges. However, Saif seems to have taken these as signs of impending Byzantine collapse. He rejected offers of an exchange of prisoners, and the poets in his entourage proclaimed his courage and the imminence of victory. Saif al-Dawla’s militancy and obduracy seem to have persuaded the reluctant Constantine that he would have to be worsted or removed, if his own authority was not to be tarnished. In, probably, 955 Nikephoros Phokas was appointed domestic of the Schools. He is said to have raised his soldiers’ morale, training them to attack in good order and to occupy enemy territory confidently ‘as if in their own land’; heavy cavalry charges were now central to tactics.60 The reason for this more aggressive strategy is given by Abu Firas, a member of Saif’s entourage: after suffering incessant incursions and after Saif had refused a truce except on extraordinary terms, Constantine made treaties with neighbouring rulers, sought military aid from them and sent out a large and expensive expedition to break Saif’s power.61 In the summer of 958 Samosata, on the Euphrates, was captured and demolished, and Saif was heavily defeated trying to relieve Raban, in October or November. Next spring the Byzantine force reached Qurus, only about 60 kilometres from Aleppo, and took many prisoners. Muslim sources suggest that Byzantium was fielding much larger forces than before, heavily armoured cavalry and units of Rus, Khazar and other foreign fighters. Whether Constantine VII would have refrained from launching a largescale reconquista must remain uncertain; death, on 9November 959, relieved him of the problems posed by departure from his own model of static, ‘Solomonic’ kingship. Constantine’s right-hand man, Basil Lekapenos the parakoim¯omenos, was arguing for another assault on Crete during Constantine’s last months. Even in court circles, the temptation to put to new uses the military machine assembled to break Saif al-Dawla was growing all but irresistible.