The government of the Byzantine Empire was headed and dominated by the emperor, but there were many other important officials who assisted in operating the finances, judiciary, military, and bureaucracy of a huge territory. Without elections, the ministers, senators, and councillors who governed the people largely acquired their position through imperial patronage or because of their status as large landowners. Government was multi-levelled based on the geographical division of the empire's population and although corruption, rebellions, and invasions threatened the functioning of the system, and even caused its reduction in scale, the system nevertheless survived for centuries to become one of the most sophisticated apparatus of government seen in any empire in history.
The Byzantine emperor (and sometimes empress) ruled as an absolute monarch and was the commander-in-chief of the army and head of the Church and government. He controlled the state finances, and he appointed or dismissed nobles at will, granting them wealth and lands or taking them away. The position was conventionally hereditary, but new dynasties were regularly founded as usurpers took the throne, usually military generals backed by the army. Unlike in the west, the Byzantine emperor was also head of the Church and so could appoint or dismiss the most important ecclesiastical role in the empire, the Patriarch or bishop of Constantinople. Further, the emperor was widely regarded as having been chosen by God to rule for the good of the people.
The emperor was distinguished by his magnificent royal residence, the Great Palace of Constantinople, and by his imperial regalia - the jewelled crown, belt, cloak, and brooch seen in so many depictions in Byzantine art. His or her image was widely seen as it appeared on coinage, official seals, weights, mosaics, and sculpture.
The emperor was supposed to consult the Senate & particularly the smaller group of the most senior senators - the sacrum consistorium.
Given the size of the empire and the complexity of all the different facets of government necessary for it to run smoothly, the emperor was, by necessity, obliged to consult with a team of close advisors. Such members of an inner circle at court, the comitatus, need not have held any formal position, but there were other permanent offices and positions which helped disseminate the imperial will to all corners of the empire. There were, in addition, the court eunuch chamberlains (cubicularii) who served the emperor in various personal duties but who could also control access to him. Eunuchs also held positions of responsibility themselves, chief amongst these being the holder of the emperor's purse, the sakellarios whose powers would increase significantly from the 7th century CE.
The Senate & Imperial Ministers
The main forum of government was the Senate of Constantinople, which was made up of aristocratic males who were given their position by the emperor. Created by Constantine I (r. 306-337 CE), it was modelled on the Roman Senate. Although in practice the emperor could make any decision he wished, at least in theory he was supposed to consult the Senate and particularly the smaller group of the most senior senators known as the sacrum consistorium. This was especially so for matters of state importance - declarations of war, treaties of alliance, and so on. The Senate, therefore, was really only an advisory body. It could, though, function as the highest court in the land in rare cases of high treason. Leo VI (r. 886-912 CE) reduced the role of the Senate even further, but it would remain as an institution until the fall of the empire in the mid-15th century CE.
Key ministers who reported to the emperor but had some autonomy of authority included the following:
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- the quaestor sacri palatii or chief legal officer and head of the judiciary
- the magister officiorum who looked after the general administration of the palace, the army and its supplies, the secret police, transport, and foreign affairs
- the cursus publicus who supervised the public post
- the comes sacrarum largitionum who controlled the state mint (Sakellion) and supervised customs houses, the state workshops and armouries, and the state's gold and silver mines. He collected some specific taxes, paid out extraordinary bonuses to the army, and supervised the distribution of clothing to the court.
- the comes rei privatae who looked after the imperial estates and the emperor's personal wealth
- the praepositus sacri cubiculi or chief eunuch who typically controlled who could have a personal audience with the emperor
- the Urban Prefect or Eparch who was, essentially, the mayor of Constantinople and had to run the city, manage its prisons, ensure public order was maintained, supervise building projects, and organise public spectacles.
The emperor and the above officials were supported by various ministries and their heads (domestikoi) such as the head of orphanages (orphanotrophos) and the head of public records (protasekretis), as well as countless minor officials (logothetes) and archivists (chartoularioi).
The Byzantine Empire was divided into the following territorial and administrative units:
- Prefectures (4)
- Dioceses (12)
- Provinces (100+)
- Town Councils
There were four prefectures, each governed by a Praetorian Prefect. The most important was the Praetorian of the East (the others governed Gaul, Italy and Illyricum) and, like his colleagues, he was responsible for all administrative, fiscal, and judicial affairs in his area. Prefects supervised and maintained the public post, roads, bridges, post-houses, and granaries in their area.
Members of a council or curia were usually the wealthier local citizens, the land-owning elite (archontes), who were not elected.
The prefectures were further divided into dioceses with their respective governors (vicarii) and each of these into administrative provinces, each with its own governor who supervised the individual city councils or curiae. Cities which were the seat of a governor such as Ephesus, Sardis and Aphrodisias, flourished as the governors sought to leave lasting monuments in their city and support the culture there. This was usually to the detriment of smaller towns in the province, and there are even records of emperors admonishing governors for dismantling monuments and stealing the stones in lesser towns in order to beautify the provincial capital.
Members of a curia were usually the wealthier local citizens, the land-owning elite (archontes), and although there were no elections, the ordinary people could voice their opinions at public events by acclaiming or booing public figures, just as factions of the crowd at the Hippodrome of Constantinople sometimes did towards the emperor. Public opinion might not bring the dismissal of councillors or other government officials but it could affect their chances of promotion as the emperor and central government were always on the watch for signs of public unrest in the provinces. Riots did occasionally break out, and the damage and economic disruption they caused was best avoided.
Local councillors were responsible for all public services and the collection of taxes in their town and its surrounding lands (curiously, any shortfall had to be made up by the councillors themselves until that onerous obligation was abolished in the early 6th century CE). This was a deliberate policy by emperors to separate tax revenue from anyone holding positions of military power and, therefore, reduce the possibility that a usurper could fund that portion of the army he commanded against the state. The main tax was a land tax called the annona, which was calculated in consideration of a census (indictio) taken every 5, and then later, 15 years.
Local councils also had to help with national services such as providing horses for the empire's postal system. The local councils could directly petition the emperor so that there was both a direct and indirect chain of authority through which imperial policy was transmitted to the ordinary people. Leo VI abolished the councils in the 9th century CE, and their duties were redistributed to other officials. Finally, to ensure that government policy was carried through in practice, there was a whole army of imperial inspectors who were regularly dispatched to the provinces.
In the 7th century CE, as the empire shrank significantly and what remained became increasingly threatened by its neighbours. Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641 CE), or his immediate successors, permanently changed the system of central government so that governors of the newly created large provinces or themes (themata) were now, in effect, provincial military commanders (strategoi) with civil responsibilities who were directly responsible to and reported to the emperor himself. The system of Praetorian Prefects was, therefore, abolished, and the logothetes, those minor officials looked down upon previously, became more instrumental in the successful running of the government and civil administration.
Thus the whole bureaucracy was simplified and the number of officials massively reduced with the most important logothetes being:
- the logothetes tou stratiotikou who was in charge of military affairs from spending to armaments and supplies
- the logothetes tou genikou who was in charge of the land tax amongst many others
- the logothetes tou dromou who was in charge of foreign affairs, internal security, the public post, protection of the emperor, roads, and official public ceremonies.
In the 8th century CE, when armies of certain themes and strategoi posed a threat to the emperor's position, the themes were reorganised into smaller regional units to reduce their military power. By the 11th century CE, the theme system went into decline as emperors like Basil II (r. 976-1025 CE) preferred to rely on the greater loyalty of their own private army. The strategoi were gradually replaced by other officials with less overall powers such as the doux or katepano (military governor) and praitor (responsible for fiscal and judicial matters).
Throughout its existence, the Byzantine Empire had a reputation both for decadence and for intricate intrigues and powerplays. Even today, the term “byzantine politics” is used to mean overly complicated and involved power structures, where a large number of shifting alliances must be respected, and the penalty for failure can be severe. But is the term justified?
The reputation of Byzantium arises from the views of Europeans of the time, as it is their writings that we have to go on. Historian Steve Runciman makes a very good point in one of his books:
“Ever since our rough crusading forefathers first saw Constantinople and met, to their contemptuous disgust, a society where everyone read and wrote, ate food with forks and preferred diplomacy to war, it has been fashionable to pass the Byzantines by with scorn and to use their name as synonymous with decadence”.
While true, this is not the only reason for this contempt. The Byzantines had a tendency to regard political power as something essentially transitive, that could be seized by any strong enough to wield it. (As anyone who has listened to the second half of The History Of Rome Podcast knows, this is a tendency they inherited from the Roman empire.) However the Europeans had much more stable (though not entirely stable) monarchies, thanks largely to much more restrictive power structures. Under the feudal systems used in Europe, the lords swore fealty to the King and his heirs. If someone else overthrew the king, those oaths were null and void. As such, therefore, kingdoms largely stayed within the purview of a single family. While usurpations and civil war were not unknown, a European country might have one every century – while Byzantium was fortunate if a single decade passed without a serious power struggle taking place.
Another reason for this contempt comes, oddly enough, from those who stood in opposition to such stable power. Liberal writers of the 18 th and 19 th century regarded Byzantium as the epitome of “absolute power in the hands of one man”, and it was often used as a parallel with similar systems (such as Imperial Russia) that still existed at the time. As such, those writers (not averse to colourful prose) labelled Byzantium as (in the words of 19 th century Irish historian and liberal William Lecky) “without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilization has yet assumed… a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs, and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude”. Georg William Friedrich Hegel (the influential German philosopher) described Byzantium’s history as “Rebellion on the part of generals, depositions of the Emperors by means or through the intrigues of the courtiers, assassinations or poisoning of the Emperors by their own wives and sons, women surrendering themselves to lusts and abominations of all kinds”. Strong stuff.
But just how accurate a portrayal is this? Everyday political life in Byzantium was all about factions. The noble families (the Komnenus, the Tzimisces and others) each vied for positions of power. The common people divided themselves along faction lines based on the colours of the chariot teams they supported (Blues versus Greens), with the leaders of those factions wielding considerable power due to the manpower they could command. (Chariot racing had replaced gladiatorial combat as the “circus” part of the “bread and circuses”, and it remained a fixture of Byzantine life up until the 13 th century.) The most memorable divide in the city was the religious divide over Iconoclasm. This disagreement arose over the role of ikons (religious images) in worship. The Iconodules believed that religious images were a necessity for worship, as it allowed one to focus on the divine. Iconclasts, on the other hand, believed that the use of these images constituted idolatry. This led to ferocious civil war, with Emperors arising who believed in one view or the other, and being opposed by those who disagreed. In the end, the Iconodules triumphed, and ikons remain an important part of the Orthodox Church to this day.
For an example of how these imperial politics played out, consider the Empress Irene. The Empire had an official policy of iconoclasm in 780 when the Emperor Leo IV died, leaving his wife the Empress Irene as regent for his nine year old son Constantine VI. She was a known iconodule (as well as being a woman, a horror to some among the establishment), and so a conspiracy immediately arose to depose her and raise Leo’s brother Nikephoros as Emperor. She responded by having the conspirators exiled, and forcing Nikephoros to become a priest (which disqualified him from the succession). She later officially reversed the policy of the empire on ikons. As her son Constantine reached maturity, he discovered that his mother had no intention of relinquishing power, leading to the unique situation of the official ruler of the Empire having to rise up in revolt against his own regent – and losing. Irene forced the official oath of loyalty to thereafter include a pledge of loyalty to herself alone, but this was too much for the army, who declared Constantine as sole ruler. Irene’s power was sufficient that Constantine could not dislodge her, and she gradually formed enough of a power base that he was forced to flee the capital. Unfortunately for him, his attendants turned out to be in the pay of the Empress, and he was seized and blinded. Blinding was a common tactic in Byzantine politics, as a way to leave an opponent no longer a threat without taking on the sin or consequences of outright murder. In the case of poor Constantine however, it was an academic distinction as the wounds festered and he died several days later. Irene then reigned as sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire for five years, although she was not recognised as a valid ruler by many, including Pope Leo. The Pope claimed that this meant that the seat of Roman Emperor was vacant and crowned Charlemagne (allegedly against his wishes) as Roman Emperor, leading to the “Holy Roman Empire” appearing on the European stage. Irene, never one to miss a trick, sent a proposal of marriage to Charlemagne. His reply is not known. Finally, in 802 the nobles and eunuchs of the court had had enough. They de-throned Irene and raised the finance minister, another Nikephoros, up in her place. He forced her into exile, where she died a year later. He would reign for eight years, before dying in battle against the Bulgars and having his skull made into a drinking cup. One gets the feeling that Irene would have approved.
Irene’s story is hardly unique in Byzantine history. The imperial sisters Zoe and Theodora intrigued against each other for decades, forcing each other into convents, blinding or poisoning rivals and even reigning side-by-side as co-Empresses for eight years, first together and then in combination with Zoe’s third husband, Constantine IX – who had his mistress ensconced in the royal family as well! Equally decadent was the relationship of Emperor Michael III and the man he crowned as his co-emperor, Basil I. Michael’s marriage was childless, but his mistress Eudokia had become pregnant. The solution he adopted was to marry her to his favourite courtier Basil, and then make Basil co-Emperor, so the child would be a legitimate heir to the throne. He didn’t cease his relationship with Eudokia, however, but kept Basil happy by retrieving his sister from a monastery and making her Basil’s mistress. Basil had his own plans, however, and he and his supporters assassinated Michael. He met a grisly end – both his hands were cut off before he was finished off with a single sword-thrust to the heart.
Michael’s fate was not unique – failure in the game of politics usually came with fatal consequences. It was very common for deposed Emperors to be strangled in prison, if they were not killed while being deposed. Leo V was cut down in a chapel by armed men disguised as monks, and his four sons were castrated to keep them from the throne – exactly the treatment Leo had meted out to the sons of his predecessor as Emperor. Emperor Nikephoros II was a capable ruler, but the vow of chastity he swore after his first wife’s death saw his second wife organise a conspiracy to oust him from power. She hid assassins in her bedchamber and sent them to his room at night, where they removed his imperial powers, along with his head. (His epitaph reads “You conquered all but a woman”.) The most undignified end may be that of Constans II – a chamberlain infuriated by his relentless and unfair taxation to finance his military adventures snuck into his bath chambers and bashed his head in with a soap dish.
Given all this, it is hard to dispute the claims of the Europeans that the Byzantines were given to intrigue and violent politics. However this was exactly the way things had operated in Rome for hundreds of years (a notable blind spot, due to the European idealisation of the Roman Empire), and indeed Byzantium itself survived for over 800 years regardless of this turmoil. The politics may not be pretty, but the no-holds-barred nature of it meant that any ruler who did not give results was swiftly replaced, while those who gained power were those most inclined to wield it. Indeed, it’s important to remember that this intrigue and double-dealing was confined to the top rungs of society – the average Byzantine was industrious and loyal. Still, I think we can be glad that modern politics, bad as it is, no longer follows the practises of Byzantium.
History of Greece The Byzantine Period
The Byzantine Period of Greek History is one of the least understood and the most important. The Byzantine Empire laid the foundations for Orthodox Christianity in Greece, the Balkans and Russia. The Fall of Constantinople meant the end of Christianity in the Middle East, the rise of Ottoman-Muslim power and the East-West friction that exists today. Byzantine Scholars brought with them from Constantinople the knowledge and art that would play a pivotal role in bringing about the Renaissance in Western Europe. (And unfortunately bypassing Greece entirely)
In 51 AD Christianity had been introduced when Saint Paul preached in Athens on Mars Hill as well as in Thessaloniki and Corinth. On the island of Patmos The Book of Revelation, otherwise known as The Apocalypse was written by St. John the Theologian between 95 and 97 A.D. He had been exiled to the island by the Roman emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus for 18 months.
In the 3rd century Attika is attacked by the Goths followed by the Huruli, Alemanni, the Franks, the Vandals and Sassanians. The Pax Romana is starting to fall apart. In the 4th Century the emperor Constantine converts to Christianity and moves the capital of the Roman Empire to the city of Byzantium on the shores of the Bosphorus, renaming it Constantinople. (City of Constantine). During this period a group within the church led by Father John Chrysostom, which believes in a literal interpretation of scripture, (as opposed to the allegorical interpretation of the Gnostics), seizes control of the church and begins to persecute as heretics all those who disagree, forcing many of them into hiding. Some believe the purest teachings of Jesus and his apostles went with them. If this is true it adds fuel to the belief that there is a hidden church that reappears from time to time in the form of groups like the Bogomils and the Cathars, only to be labeled heretics, and forced into hiding again. (Those who are not exterminated) These groups claim to be the true church. It is during the third and fourth century that Christianity goes from being an agglomeration of persecuted sects with a variety of beliefs and practices based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, to an enormous secular power that imposes its dogma on others, executes heretics, fights wars and basically enriches itself as a self-serving institution.
In 364 the empire officially splits into the Roman Empire in the west and the Byzantine Empire in the east. As Rome declines, Constantinople becomes more important. In 394 The Emperor Theodocious declares Christianity the official religion of the empire, outlawing the worship of the ancient Greek and Roman Gods. This is the beginning of the Byzantine empire which lasts a thousand years. Greek replaces Latin as the official language, monasteries and churches are built and religious art in the form of frescos, icons and mosaics become the primary form of artistic expression in a society that has no separation of church and state whatsoever. In 529 the emperor Justinian conquers the land to the south as well as North Africa and Italy, then declares the study of the ancient Greek philosophers of the classical period to be illegal. The only philosophy of the empire is to be Christian theology. The Church of Agia Sophia is built in the reign of Justinian. The church, named for the Holy Wisdom of God is the second largest temple ever built, after the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The architects of this massive domed basilica are Anthemius from Tralles and Isidorus from Miletus.
The 7th and 8th centuries see the rise of Islam and there are a number of attacks by the Arabs with Crete falling in 823. If not for Greek-fire, the Byzantine's secret weapon, Constantinople would have fallen too. An explosive and incendiary substance made from sulphur, pitch and petroleum Greek fire's effect was the equivalent of what airplanes and tanks had on 20th century warfare. It enabled a smaller Byzantine force to defeat a much larger enemy. The substance was squirted from bellows mounted in the Byzantine ships and caused great terror and destruction.
In 726 Emperor Leo and his advisors conclude that perhaps the reason for these attacks and the near destruction of the empire is that they have somehow managed to anger God. Leo hits upon the idea of destroying religious images ( Icons ) to appease God, since their veneration comes close to breaking the commandment about idolatry. This policy of Iconoclasm, (which means image breaking) divides Byzantine society and politics for the next 120 years. The last iconoclast emperor is Theophilos. After he dies in 842, his widow Theodora acting as regent for their young son, Michael III restores the veneration of Icons as an acceptable form of worship.
It is also during the 8th Century that the Emperor Michael I imposes the death penalty on the Paulicans, a Gnostic Christian group that is critical of the clergy and rejects its cult of saints and icons and the veneration of the cross (among other things). It is estimated that over 100,000 are killed as heretics though a number of them survive in the eastern provinces of the empire until they are deported to the Balkans in the 10th century.
In 1204 the Frankish crusaders, on their way to retake the Holyland during the 4th Crusade, stop at Constantinople, sack it and install their own government. Constantinople becomes the capital of a Latin empire when these 'crusaders' capture Thessaloniki and most of central Greece and much of the Peloponnese. These areas are broken up into states or fiefs as in a feudal society, ruled by nobles. While the Franks and the Byzantines fight each other and amongst themselves the Venetians are busy taking over the island of Crete and other essential ports for their new role as traders and merchants in the Mediterranean. Following the sack of Constantinople, the town of Nicaea becomes a centre where monks establish a school of philosophy that includes not only Christian philosophy but also classical ancient Hellenic culture. This period also results in some of the most glorious iconography produced.
In 1259 the Byzantine Emperor Michael Paleologos defeats Guillaume de Villehardouin and the Frankish forces in the battle of Pelagonia. Many nobles are captured and held prisoner and for their return Paleologos receives the fortified town of Monemvasia and the town and castle of Mystras (photo) which Villehardouin has just finished building. Two years later Paleologos recaptures the city of Constantinople.
During the 4th Crusade Athens becomes the fiefdom of Otho de la Roche from Burgundy. He passes the city on to his son Guy de la Roche who is declared Duke of Athens by King Louis IX of France. Athens is now a Dukedom. In 1308 Walter of Breinne inherits the Dukedom of Athens and invites mercenaries from Catalan to help defend his city. The Catalans are an unruly bunch and after he decides he needs to send them home, or anywhere, they turn on Walter, defeating him. They make one of their own Duke, Manfred of Sicily. In 1387 the Florentine Nerio Acciajuoli invades Athens and becomes a popular leader. The Florentines are the most accepted of the rulers by the Athenian population and many stay in the city even after the conquest by the Ottomans, intermarrying and Hellenizing their names. (The Iatros or Iatropoulos family claim descent from the Midicis.)
By the 14th Century the Ottoman Turks have taken Thessaloniki and Macedonia. On 1453 the siege and fall of Constantinople is one of the major events of world history heralding the end of the Byzantine Empire and the beginning of the Ottoman empire. Mehmed the Conqueror, with an army of 150,000 Turks besieges Constantinople starting on April 5th. On Tuesday May 29th, comes the final assault. The Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX is killed, and the city falls.
Three years later Athens falls and then in 1460 Mistras surrenders without a fight. Monks, scholars, artists and thinkers flee to the west bringing with them the great works of the ancient Hellenes, sparking the period in Europe known as The Renaissance . Others flee into the Mani and mountain monasteries to keep the spark of Hellenism alive in Greece for the next four centuries of Turkish occupation, at least in the popular romantic mythology. In truth the clergy were to have it pretty good under the Turks and how much they saved Hellenism is a topic that is debatable.
Most of the sources seem to overlook the fact that while the Byzantine Empire was Greek speaking and its idealism was based on a singular interpretation of both Christianity and on Roman Hellenism - that it was not Greek ethnically. Most of the Emperors were Armenians, Syrian - in terms of dynastic origins. The only Dynasty that was distinctly 'Greek' was that of the Palaeologues and it was through their bungling and family disputes and general lack of imagination that the Empire fell as it did. It is also important to note that during the entire period of the Palaeologue dynasty and even before, there are hardly any new churches erected as most of their time and money is spent in family disputes and wars with what remained of the Crusaders scattered around the empire . Then suddenly after the beginning of the 16th century churches are built everywhere during the period of Ottoman rule.
To understand modern Greece one has to realize that for centuries it was their dream to restore the Byzantine empire with Constantinople as capital of a Greater Greece. This is known as the 'Megali Idea', the Great Idea and nearly 500 years later it almost happens. But was their Megali Idea really a restoration of a Hellenic-Christian empire or a nationalistic pipe-dream that served the purpose of uniting the Greeks at the expense of peaceful relationships with their neighbors?
The Military of the Byzantines
At Manzikert 26 August 1071, the Seljuk Turks led by Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantine Empire. The brunt of the battle was borne by the professional soldiers from the eastern and western tagmata, as large numbers of the mercenaries and Anatolian levies fled early and survived the battle. The fallout from Manzikert was disastrous for the Byzantines, resulting in civil conflicts and an economic crisis that severely weakened the Byzantine Empire’s ability to adequately defend its borders. This led to the mass movement of Turks into central Anatolia by 1080, an area of 78,000 square kilometres (30,000 sq mi) had been gained by the Seljuk Turks. It took three decades of internal strife before Alexios I Komnenos (1081 to 1118) restored stability to the Byzantines. Historian Thomas Asbridge says: “In 1071, the Seljuqs crushed an imperial army at the Battle of Manzikert (in eastern Asia Minor), and though historians no longer consider this to have been an utterly cataclysmic reversal for the Greeks, it still was a stinging setback.”
In 330 ce, Constantine I, Emperor of the Romans, founded a new capital for his empire on the triangular peninsula of land that divided the Bosphorus from the Sea of Marmara, commanding the narrow water passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. He named it Constantinople, and in time it grew to be not only one of the greatest cities of antiquity, but the center of one of the most impressive civilizations the world has ever seen: the Byzantine Empire.
Within 200 years, the Byzantines (or Eastern Roman Empire, as they styled themselves) had grown to massive proportions, controlling all of Italy, the Balkans, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, and Southern Spain. Such an empire could be held together only by a strong and efficient military, and for several centuries the Byzantine army had no equal anywhere in the world.
Although the empire had expanded enormously through conquest, the basic role of the Byzantine army was defensive. Fortifying the long borders was out of the question, and since raiders and invaders could strike anywhere along the empire’s frontier, the army needed to be able to move quickly to meet these threats. Like their predecessors, the Roman legions, the Byzantine units formed a professional standing army which was trained to near-perfection as a fighting machine. Unlike the legions, however, the core of the army was cavalry and fast-moving foot archers. Speed and firepower had become the trademarks of the “new Romans.”
The stirrup reached the empire from China early in the fifth century, and increased the effectiveness of the cavalry enormously. Therefore, the core of the Byzantine army became the heavy cavalry. A typical heavy cavalryman was armed with a long lance, a short bow, a small axe, broadsword, a dagger, and a small shield. He wore a steel helmet, a plate mail corselet that reached from neck to thigh, leather gauntlets, and high boots. His horse’s head and breast might be protected with light armor as well. By the later empire, armor for both rider and horse became almost complete, especially in the frontline units. In a secondary role, unarmored light cavalry horse archers on smaller mounts supported the heavy units with missile fire, while other light cavalry armed with a long lance and large shield protected their flanks.
The infantryman who usually accompanied the cavalry in the field was either a lightly armored archer who used a powerful long bow, a small shield, and a light axe, or an unarmored skirmisher armed with javelins and shield. Because most Byzantine operations depended on speed, tactically as well as strategically, heavy infantry seldom ventured beyond the camps or fortifications. The heavy infantryman wore a long mail coat and steel helmet and carried a large, round shield. He used a long spear and a short sword. The Varangian Guard, the emperor’s personal body guards, were famous for their great two handed axes which they wielded with great effect. Their armor was almost complete plate and mail from head to foot.
To the Byzantines, war was a science, and brains were prized over daring or strength. Military manuals such as the Strategikon (ca. 580) and the Tactica (ca. 900) laid down the basics of military strategy that really did not vary for almost a thousand years. The army was always small in number (field armies almost never exceeded 20,000 men, and the total force of the empire probably was never greater than 100,000) and, because of its training and equipment, very expensive to maintain. Huge losses in combat could be catastrophic, and seldom were great winner take-all battles fought. The goal of any Byzantine general was to win with the least cost. If by delay, skirmishing, or with drawing the local population and their goods into forts he could wear out an invading force and cause it to withdraw without a costly pitched battle, so much the better. Bribing an enemy to go away was also quite acceptable.
The warrior emperor Heraclius divided the empire into some 30 themes, or military districts, each under a separate military commander. Each theme provided and supported its own corps of cavalry and infantry, raised from self-supporting peasant warrior-farmers, enough to provide a small self-contained army that was capable of independent operation. For four centuries this system endured, and Byzantium remained strong. Only in the eleventh century, when the theme system and its free peasantry were abandoned, did the empire become weak and vulnerable.
Because theme commanders depended on accurate information about enemies and their movements, they maintained a very sophisticated intelligence service. Over time, espionage became so important to Byzantine operations that a part of the emperor’s bureaucracy, known as the Office of Barbarians, was dedicated solely to gathering military intelligence and disseminating it to the commanders in the field.
Byzantine battlefield tactics, although highly flexible and adaptable, were based invariably on archery first, then shock assault as needed. Since everyone in the army except the heavy infantry carried a bow, an incredible amount of firepower could be directed against the enemy. The highly trained and disciplined cavalry units, supported by the light infantry archers, could pour volley after volley of arrows into enemy units and then, when those units began to lose cohesion, charge with lance and sword, rout them, and pursue them out of Byzantine territory.
Since Constantinople was a major port, surrounded by water on three sides, a strong navy was also necessary for the empire’s survival. Byzantine ships were fairly typical oar-driven galleys of the time, but they possessed a great technological advantage over other navies: a weapon known as Greek fire. This was a highly flammable mixture that could be thrown on enemy ships in pots from catapults, or pumped by siphons directly on their decks, breaking into white-hot flames on contact. If water was poured on Greek fire, it burned even hotter. One of the great secrets of the ancient world is the exact composition of Greek fire, but it probably contained pitch, kerosene, sulfur, resin, naphtha, and quicklime. Whatever the mix, it was a terrifying weapon that was almost impossible to defend against. With Greek fire, the Byzantine navy reigned supreme for centuries on the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.
The Byzantines were also fortunate in producing many great military leaders over the centuries: emperors such as Justinian I, Heraclius, Basil I, Leo III, Maurice, Leo VI “the Wise,” and generals like Narses, Belisarius, and John Kurkuas. Their skills and insights maintained the Eastern Roman Empire for almost a thousand years after the fall of the western branch.
Although the Byzantines fought many peoples over the centuries, in campaigns of either conquest or defense, it was a religious opponent, the Muslims, who became their most intractable, and in the end, lethal, foe. For seven centuries, a succession of Muslim generals led Persian, Arab, and Turkish armies against the armies and walls of Constantinople. Gradually, the empire was eaten away, and its wealth and manpower base eroded. Not only did the Byzantines have to face the Muslim threat, but a growing schism between their church, the Greek Orthodox, and the Roman Catholic Church, isolated them from their fellow Christians. In 1071, the emperor Romanus IV violated one of the mainstays of Byzantine strategy when he concentrated most of his military power in one great battle against Alp Arslan and the Seljuk Turks at Manzikert in Armenia. The result was a devastating defeat, allowing the Turks to overrun most of Asia Minor, the heartland of the empire. Byzantium never really recovered from this debacle. In 1204, Christian crusaders, allied with the city-state of Venice, took advantage of internal Byzantine strife to seize and sack Constantinople. It was not until 1261 that the emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus recaptured Constantinople from the Latins, but the damage had been done. The empire’s once great resources, and its ability to maintain itself, were almost gone. On May 29, 1453, Mohammed II, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, using great cannons (weapons even more fearsome than Greek fire), broke through the seemingly eternal walls of Constantinople and brought the glorious Byzantine Empire to an end.
Certainly, Byzantines made many great contributions to civilization: Greek language and learning were preserved, the Roman imperial system and law was continued, the Greek Orthodox Church spread Christianity among many peoples, and a splendid new religious art form was created. But it is possible that their ideas on military science (mobility and firepower delay and deception espionage and state- craft an emphasis on professionalism over the warrior ethos) might stand as the most significant aspect of their great legacy.
References: Diehl, Charles, Byzantium: Greatness and Decline (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1957) Griess, Thomas, Ancient and Medieval Warfare (West Point: U. S. Military Academy, 1984) Ostrogorsky, George, History of the Byzantine State (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1957).
Compare the Islamic empires and the Byzantine empire
I would like to talk about what similarities and differences were there between the Islamic empires and the Byzantine empire , and what were the root causes of the Crusades today.
Similarities between the Islamic empire and the Byzantine empire were that they both rose to power through military force. With this similarity comes the next in the fact that both empires had extremely strong military forces. They both flourished through their use of trade . This included their help in developing the Silk Road and having merchants along the route. The Islam empire was an iconoclastic religion and the Byzantine empire underwent an iconoclastic period. These iconoclastic views resulted in the two empires having more in common because they were both seen as outsiders or foreigners to the Western European people. While the Byzantium empire was being formed they were at almost constant war with the Umayyad and Abbasids. This made life in their empire very difficult at times. The empire only survived these attaches because of the new military and religious beliefs they were building towards, with locally organized defense and the upgrade of Christian doctrine (Pg. 267). This aspect of war against them almost constantly made the Byzantine empire slightly different from the Islamic empire faced was within its internal boundary amongst themselves. Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians came in with loads of different ideas, belief, history and artwork (Pg.263). The Turks conquered both the Byzantine and Islam empires. The differences between the two empires were extreme concerning religious views. The Byzantine empire was Christian and the Islam empire were Muslim. The Byzantine empire had an absolute monarchy with secular absolute ruler while the Islam empire was Caliphate which was an aristrocratic constitutional Republic. The Byzantin empire was different from the Islam empire due to the fact that it was larger and more advanced. The root causes of the Crusades were due to the Muslim attacks on the Eastern Roman Empire. The city of Jerusalem was significant to the Christian religion and was viewed as a Holy land. The Turks took control over Jerusalem and massacred 3,000 Christians. The remaining Christians were treated so badly that they took a stand and formed the Crusades. The Crusades began because of the holy war between the Christians and the Muslims and was centered around Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Sivers, P. V., Desnoyers, C. A., & Stow, G. B. (2013). Patterns of World History Volume 1: To 1600.
Byzantine Government - History
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Byzantine Empire? This term wasn't even used until 100 years after the Empire itself fell. The Byzantine Empire is the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. When Rome "fell", the Byzantines thrived. The Byzantines pose a unique problem in AP World History: The peak of Byzantine Civilization achieved under Justinian was reached in the late 500s. Hence, it does not fit well into the model of Post-Classical applied by the AP. Regardless, the Byzantines are a major empire in the Post Classical Era (although it is in a constant state of decline throughout the period).
The Educational System of the Byzantine Empire
The educational system of the Byzantine Empire was in large part that inherited from the Hellenistic/Roman past. During primary schooling, students were initiated in reading and writing while secondary schooling deepened their knowledge. Higher education was to be found in large cities only and from the middle Byzantine period onward almost exclusively in Constantinople and with the initiative of Emperors or high ranking officials.
Despite some initial difficulties in synthesizing the Christian religion with the Pagan literature of antiquity, the Church accepted that the study of the intellectual tradition of the ancient world was to its benefit. Gregory of Nazianzos and Basil of Great both recommended the study of classics to Christians and pointed how their legacy was beneficial to Christian readers too.
Education was always a matter of individual choice and not something mandated by the state. Schools were private and parents who wanted their children to receive a good (or even average) education had to pay tuition fees (misthos or siteresion). Fees were determined by the teacher’s reputation and learning. Fees were somewhat high and there are known cases where there were legal challenges about fees owed. In the middle Byzantine period an official named prokathemenos ton pedaiuterion supervised those private schools.
Although the number of pupils is not know, they must have represented a small, elite proportion of the young generation. The number of highly cultivated people was small. On the other hand, elementary education was far more widespread. Wealthy women in Byzantium could get educated at home but also in schools for girls. Michael Psellos’ daughter Styliane might have went to such a school as the philosopher makes reference to her ‘fellow schoolgirls’. There was no established schedule for when children would go to schools or specific dates for starting/ending the lessons.
The primary education was known as propaideia (beginning at 6–8 yo and lasting 3 -4 years) and the schoolteacher was known as paidagogos, paidotribes, paidodidaskalos or grammatistes. Secondary education was known as enkyklios paideia (beginning at 12–14 yo and lasting at least 4 years). Responsible for this education was the grammatikos/maistor while pupils were taught by ekkritoi tes scholes (‘prefects’). The grammatikoi monitored the general progress of pupils and supervised the ekkritoi. Primary education was usually conducted in courtyards of monasteries or churches (as many of the teachers were from the clergy) while secondary education was conducted in buildings in the city center.
Primary education focused on reading, writing and arithmetic. Pupils would write exercises on schedaria (wooden tablets) or ostraca using stylus. The Psalter was the key textbook. The secondary education included the trivium of grammar, philosophy and rhetoric and the quadrivium of music, arithmetic, astronomy and geometry. Principal textbooks were the Iliad and nine tragedies: Persians, Prometheus Bound, and Seven Against Thebes by Aischylos, Ajax, Electra and Oedipus the King by Sophokles, and Hecuba, Orestes, and Phoenician Women by Euripides. Three comedies from Aristophanes (The Frogs, Wealth and The Clouds) and Pindar, Theokritos, Demosthenes, Aischines, Xenophon, Psalms of David and poems of Gregory Nazianzos were also part of the curriculum.
Regarding grammar, the Cannons of George Choiroboskos and Theodosios of Alexandria and the Techne Grammatike (Art of Grammar) of Dionysios Thrax were popular. Rhetoric was also important, with pupils having to compose small texts on themes drawn from ancient Greece (usually mythology). Mathematics were usually taught along with astronomy. Mathematical epigrams by Metrodoros (6th century), texts by Nikomachos of Gerasa (1st — 2nd century AD) and Euclid were the basis of mathematical education. With regards to music, ancient musical theory consisted in studying the mathematical ratios that represented musical intervals, and that study of harmonic ratios was extended to cosmology. The Byzantines continued with this tradition.
Astronomy was much cultivated by the Byzantines. Byzantine astronomy can be divided into two strands the Ptolemean tradition and the adoption of various foreign astronomical tables (Arabic, Persian, Latin and Jewish). The Ptolemaic tradition was based on his work Almagest and on Theon of Alexandria, whose commentaries on Ptolemy were widely used. Theon’s book was, according to the author, ‘astronomy for dummies’ and with its clear explanations and examples allowed anyone to use Ptolemy’s tables without having to understand the difficult geometrical grounds of Ptolemy’s astronomy. The eleventh century was the most important for Byzantine astronomy. Aside from books based on the Ptolemaic tradition, one can find good knowledge of Islamic astronomy. In 1062, a Byzantine astrolabe was created for a man of Persian origins. The destruction brought upon by the Fourth Crusade caused a rapture in that scientific advance and the Islamic works disappeared from Byzantium until the late thirteenth century, when Constantinople had been recovered. Among the renewers of Ptoleamic astronomy in that new period was Theodore Metochites with his enormous work Astronomike Stoicheiosis (Astronomic Elements). Nikephoros Gregoras, pupil of Metochites, was able to use Ptolemaic astronomical tables to predict solar and lunar eclipses. Barlaam of Calabria was also skilled in astronomy and able to calculate the solar eclipses of 1333 and 1337. During this period, Persian astronomy was introduced in Byzantium.
Bonds could develop between students and teachers and pupils sometimes brought gifts to their teachers such as food (honey, fish, wine, etch). Teachers could also help their students after finishing school, helping them take positions in the Byzantine bureaucracy. Byzantium had a large administrative machinery that had to be staffed by educated men: in this regard, it somewhat resembled the dynastic empires of China. It is by no accident that the most important literati/scholars of Byzantium also were career bureaucrats.
The state did sometimes intervene in attempts to impose control on higher education. Theodosius II in 425 founded the Pandidakterion, which was meant to help equip young men with the knowledge necessary to enter the Byzantine bureaucracy. It had 31 professors, most of whom taught Latin and Greek. Higher education schools also existed in Berytus, Athens, Antioch, Alexandria and other major cities. Later on, in 855, Caesar Bardas established a higher school at Magnaura.
Constantine VII in the tenth century supported a series of schools: he himself was an accomplished scholar, among his works being De Ceremoniis (“On Ceremonies” — Περί τῆς Βασιλείου Τάξεως), describing court ceremonies, De Administrando Imperio (“On the Administration of the Empire” — Προς τον ίδιον υιόν Ρωμανόν), giving political advice to his son Romanos and Vita Basilii (“Life of Basil” — Βίος Βασιλείου), a biography of the founder of the Macedonian Dynasty, Basil I. He was a passionate collector of books and manuscripts.
Emperor Constantine IX (reigned 1042–1055) established two higher education schools, the Didaskaleion ton Nomon (legal school), under John Xiphilinos, and the School of Philosophy under Michael Psellus. Under the Komnenian Dynasty (1081–1185), higher education was reorganized by the central government. A Patriarchal Academy was established with series for rhetoric, philosophy, theology, and Scripture, with twelve teachers appointed by the Patriarch. After 1204, it was the Church that provided infrastructure for higher education.
Difference Between The ISLAMIC EMPIRES and The BYZANTINE EMPIRE
There were several differences and similarities between the Islamic empires and the Byzantine empires. Both the Byzantine and Islamic empires rose at the demise of the Roman Empire. The most notable difference between the two was their religious practices. The Byzantine Empire consisted of Orthodox Christians the Arab (Muslims) empires were engulfed in Islam. Although different, both religions had similar tenants. Islam believed in a monotheistic God as did the Byzantine. They both had periods of Iconoclasm, the eradication of religious images and icons that ultimately led to polytheism.
At the heart of their similarities were strong military forces that greatly influenced their rise to power. Byzantine had a very strong naval and military whereas Islamic empire relied on the Rashidun army. This similarity gave both empires a strong foundation for growth. The governments of both empires were instinctively different. The Byzantine Empire was an absolute monarchy with a secular absolute ruler where the Emperor was placed above the law. On the other hand the Islamic empire was a caliphate, (successor) a supreme religious and political leader. (261)
Both empires were recipients of lucrative trade routes. The Byzantine Empire traded across the revived silk roads and the Mediterranean Sea which made the capital, Constantinople, the center of commerce and wealth. The Islamic empire also traded across the silk roads linking China and the Mediterranean. Routes between Europe and Asia at the edge of the Silk Road, and the overlook routes across the Arabian Peninsula to eastern Africa created a unique setting for cultural exchange and was essential in creating banks and businesses.
The crusades were a series of holy wars that was an attempt by the Catholics to re-gain control over provinces in the Middle East. “The Crusades were inspired by the new wave of religious enthusiasm sweeping Europe during the period of recovery.” (305) The main objectives of the Crusades involved taking Jerusalem, the holy city in the middle east, which holds importance to the Jewish, Christians and Islamic religions. To the Christians, Jerusalem was significant to their religion because of it represented the place of crucifixion and death of Christ. Pilgrimage was denied the right by the Muslims to visit the holy land thus setting off a number of crusades that would last over 200 years.
Sivers, P., Desnoyers, C., & Stow, G. (2013). Islamic Civilization and Byzantium. In Patterns of world history (Vol. 1, p. 256-287). New York: Oxford university press.
How Did the Byzantine Empire Fall?
The fall of the Byzantine Empire began as early as 634 A.D. when Muslim armies attacked and entered Syria. At the end of the 11th century, during the Crusades, there was growing animosity between Byzantium and the West. The final fall came in 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by an attack by an Ottoman army.
The Roman emperor Constantine built a "new Rome" on the former Greek colony of Byzantium and made Constantinople his capital in 330 A.D. Although during his reign there was unity, in 364 A.D., Emperor Valentinian divided the kingdom into western and eastern regions. The western region fared poorly and was under constant attack. In 476 A.D., Odoacer defeated the Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus, and Roman control over the western region effectively ended.
The eastern half of Byzantium flourished for another 1,000 years and created a rich culture of art, learning and literature. The Emperor Justinian I, who ruled from 527 A.D. until his death in 565 A.D., was among the empire's greatest Roman rulers, and his territory included most of the land around the Mediterranean Sea. Great monuments, such as the Church of Holy Wisdom and the Hagia Sophia, were built during this period of time. After Justinian's death, the empire found itself with large war debts, and the citizens were forced to pay heavy taxes. The army also did not have the resources to protect the territories acquired during Justinian's rule. Byzantium also faced attacks by the Slavs and Persians, political instability and damaging attacks in 634 A.D. from Muslim armies who entered Syria. Byzantium lost North Africa, Syria, the Holy Land and Egypt to Islamic armies.
In 1204, Constantinople was conquered by the Fourth Crusade, and an unstable Latin regime was established. Many refugees escaped to Nicaea to join the exiled Byzantine government and successfully overthrew Latin rule in 1261. However, the economy and the empire were permanently crippled. In 1369, Emperor John V failed to get financial aid from the West in order to shake off numerous threats from the Turkish Empire. He was arrested and forced to make Byzantium a vassal of the Turkish Empire. On the May 29, 1453, an Ottoman army stormed Constantinople, and Emperor Mehmed II entered the Hagia Sophia. Emperor Constantine XI died in battle on that day, and the great Byzantine Empire was no more.
Byzantine Studies as an Academic Discipline
Byzantine Studies are concerned with the history and culture of what has come to be known as the Byzantine Empire, that is, the empire of East Rome. The term ‘Byzantine’ derives from Byzantium, the name of the city founded in the eighth century bce that had previously occupied the site of Constantine's Constantinople, and is a modern construct first used in seventeenth-century Europe. ‘Byzantium’ and ‘Byzantine’ are now used freely to refer to all aspects of the East Roman Empire and its culture. Today, Byzantine Studies is an academic discipline represented in many universities throughout the Western world, whether in autonomous departments or by the special research interests of individual scholars. Byzantine Studies, in the sense of the study of Byzantine history, language, and literature, has a long pedigree. This book provides a picture of the state of Byzantine Studies today, with bibliographies and references to guide the neophyte reader.
B yzantine Studies are concerned with the history and culture of what has come to be known as the Byzantine Empire, that is, the empire of East Rome. This was centred on the city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul), generally agreed to have been founded in 324 by the emperor Constantine to be the capital of the eastern portions of the Roman Empire (although the issue of Constantine's actual intentions remains debated). Its boundaries fluctuated over the centuries but it remained as a distinct, and for the most part major, political entity in the world of Europe, the east Mediterranean, and the neighbouring regions for more than a millennium, until its final capture by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 its influence lives on to the present day. Its emperors and citizens thought of themselves as Roman (romaioi) while the inhabitants of Constantinople regularly referred to themselves as Constantinopolitans and their city as the Queen City.
(p. 4) The term ‘Byzantine’ derives from Byzantium, the name of the city founded in the eighth century bce that had previously occupied the site of Constantine's Constantinople, and is a modern construct first used in seventeenth-century Europe. ‘Byzantium’ and ‘Byzantine’ are now used freely to refer to all aspects of the East Roman Empire and its culture. As an extension of the Roman Empire Byzantium's structures of government and administration evolved seamlessly from those of the late Roman empire of the first centuries ce , with Latin initially the language of administration. The language of its literary culture, however, was Greek. From its inception Constantinople was a Christian city, whose bishop in time became the ecumenical patriarch of the Orthodox Church while the rituals and thought patterns of Christianity became all pervasive in the Byzantine way of life. The defining characteristics of this empire are thus that it was Roman in law and government, Greek in language and literary culture, and Christian in its religion.
For the English-speaking world of the twenty-first century, or the world of western Europe in general, Byzantium is something of a black hole, a shadowy force if known at all, unlike the empire of West Rome whose physical remains are a conspicuous and very real reminder of its former presence. At its most basic this difference in perception reflects the linguistic and cultural—as well as political—divisions between eastern and western Europe that grew up in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when the east was predominantly Orthodox and with a literary culture based on Greek whilst the west was Roman Catholic with a Latin literary culture: at some points an impermeable barrier could be said to have been in place between the two. In modern times this separation is still visible in many areas. It has also been reflected in the curricula at secondary and tertiary levels of education where Byzantium has been given a very small place indeed, although classicists (albeit often grudgingly) would admit that without the intervention of Byzantine scribes no texts in ancient Greek would have survived to the present day. Byzantium has been of esoteric interest only. This damnatio memoriae, this condemnation to oblivion, however, is no longer quite so true as it once was. Good witness to this is the intense interest generated by exhibitions of Byzantine art, most notably the exhibitions staged in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (‘Age of Spirituality’ in 1977, ‘Glory of Byzantium’ in 1997, and ‘Byzantium: Faith and Power, 1261–1557’ in 2004), with huge sales of the exhibition catalogues. Among the considerations that will have led to this heightened awareness of Byzantium and its culture must be included the development of tourism and inexpensive travel to Greece and Turkey, where access to major monuments is no longer the hazardous adventure it used to be not so very long ago.
However, academic centres devoted to the study of Byzantium have existed in many forms in most countries of Europe and North America for many years, in some cases informally as the result of an individual's special interests, in other cases formally since the last years of the nineteenth century. These centres have turned what might have become an antiquarian hobby for dilettante collectors (p. 5) of precious artefacts, such as enamels or icons, into a coherent discipline. An important initial, though not necessarily automatic, stimulus for the investigation of Byzantium lay in the major collections of Greek manuscripts, whether of classical or medieval texts—all of course dating from the Byzantine period and copied in areas under Byzantine domination. Such collections, brought together as the result of widely varied historical circumstances, are to be found, for example, in Athens, London, Madrid, Paris, the Vatican, and Vienna. This has meant that a primary focus for interest in Byzantium has often been as much philological as historical. For others, of course, ‘Byzantium’ immediately implies a theological tradition and ecclesiastical structures, though these are only part of the definition of Byzantine culture.
France saw the first interest in ‘le bas empire’, as the later stages of the Roman Empire came to be known, in the court of Louis XIV, where optimistic comparisons could be drawn between parallel imperial aspirations. This led to an interest in the acquisition of texts, particularly histories, from the Byzantine period, and the first printing of a number of these, largely from the royal collections. These Paris editions, reprinted in Venice, remained important tools until replaced by the Bonn editions of the nineteenth century. The manuscripts kept in the Paris libraries also provided the wherewithal for other important academic tools such as Du Cange's Glossarium mediae et infimae Graecitatis (1688) , which is still not entirely superseded. Intellectual interest in Byzantine studies has remained a constant in French academic life, represented in recent years by important work at the Sorbonne and the Collège de France.
Perhaps the most significant step towards creating the discipline was taken by Karl Krumbacher (1856–1909) in Munich in the 1890s, wherehefounded Byzanti-nische Zeitschrift , the first journal to focus on this field and still the journal of record, and set up an Institute for Byzantine Studies within the University of Munich which continues to this day. In Germany other important centres appeared in, for example, Berlin, Bonn, and Hamburg. Also of significance were developments in Athens, where the newly founded university and the Academy had a strong interest in this area. Pre-revolutionary Russia saw much important work that was with difficulty continued through the Stalinist period but which was reflected in the invigorating perspectives brought by the late Alexander Kazhdan when he moved from Moscow to Washington in the 1970s.
The next most significant step for the discipline came with the institution of a series of international congresses of Byzantine Studies, the first taking place in Bucharest in 1924, with some thirty participants. These have come to be held every five years, with interruptions only for the Second World War. The most recent have been in London (2006), Paris (2001), Copenhagen (1996), and Moscow (1991). For virtually every congress plenary papers and many of the shorter contributions have been published: these are an invaluable record of changing areas of interest and methodologies.
(p. 6) In the 1920s and 1930s Byzantine artefacts (icons, ivories, enamels) came to the attention of collectors of fine art—their abstract qualities accorded with the taste of the time, and they were relatively inexpensive. Mr and Mrs Robert Bliss, American connoisseurs, built up a choice collection with an associated scholarly library which was housed in their home, a charming eighteenth-century mansion in Washington, DC. In 1940 they presented this to Harvard University: the ensuing Research Library and Collection in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks has become one of the most significant resources in the field, with a holding of books that can only with difficulty be matched elsewhere. The existence of Byzantine Studies in many North American universities owes much to this institution.
In the years after the Second World War Byzantine Studies developed as part of the general expansion of tertiary education. In Austria, with a significant holding of Greek manuscripts in the State Library in Vienna and situated centrally at the crossroads between Catholic and Orthodox Europe, the Institut der Öster-reichischen Byzantinistik was set up and soon, under the astute guidance of the late Herbert Hunger, initiated a major series of research projects, starting with modern manuscript catalogues and encompassing editions oftexts, studies of seals, and mapping Byzantine territories (Tabula Imperii Byzantini). In Britain, where Byzantine studies had been promoted by individual scholars such as J. B. Bury (1861–1927) and later his pupil Steven Runciman (1903–2000), weak institutional support was transformed in the educational creativity of the 1960s and departments were set up (Birmingham) or strengthened (Cambridge, London, Oxford). On the model of the Dumbarton Oaks' symposia and the quinquennial international congresses, British Byzantine studies are held together by annual symposia, which are regularly published. The rather surprising strength, on paper, of Byzantine studies in Australia can be seen as an offshoot of the British developments since most of those involved were trained in the UK.
Today, Byzantine Studies is an academic discipline represented in many universities throughout the Western world, whether in autonomous departments or by the special research interests of individual scholars. Its main organs of communication continue to be academic journals, such as Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Byzantinische Zeitschrift, Byzantinoslavica, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, Revue des Études Byzantines, Vizantijskij Vremennik, though electronic means of publication are gaining ground.
As an area of scholarship the current popularity of Byzantine Studies reflects the expansion of mass tertiary education through universities and equivalent institutions, especially in the United States and western Europe, as well as an increased awareness of, and interest in, the post-classical antecedents of much of ‘western’ culture. There is in addition a corresponding awareness of the proximity to its medieval forebears of contemporary cultures in which the Orthodox Church has played a role from medieval times up to the present day. And it also reflects the interest in one aspect of their own heritage shown by second- and third- or fourth-generation (p. 7) immigrants from Greece and eastern Europe to the United States, Canada, and Australia in particular, where the popular combination of Byzantine with Modern Greek Studies demonstrates the expansion of a small but lively educational market. Recent and current political and cultural issues in South-East Europe have raised the consciousness of many with regard to the Byzantine past and its contribution to the shaping of the modern world in the Balkan and East Mediterranean region. It is significant, and perhaps also ironic, that it was primarily for reasons of political concern that interest in the Byzantine world and its heritage received such stimulus in the early Renaissance period in the first place. For the threat from the expanding Ottoman state which was perceived in central and western Europe served directly to arouse interest in Byzantine accounts of the Turks and their history, an interest which in its turn promoted further probing into the East Roman, or at least post-Roman imperial past, among political and intellectual circles of the West, especially in Italy, during the sixteenth century (see the useful brief introduction to the field in Moravcsik 1976).
Closely bound up with this political historical, indeed, strategic geographical interest, study of the Greek language and its evolution in the post-classical world was a central part of this developing tradition. The linguistic evolution of Greek in its various spoken and written forms, the functional and cultural differentiation between the various registers and dialects, proved to be a vast field for linguists and philologists, an interest again stimulated by the need to make sense of medieval Greek historical writing and chronicles, and tied in with the very immediate demands of the cultural politics of the period which produced it.
But like much of the subject-matter of western science, Byzantium has remained the object until quite recently of outside scrutiny, for the scholarly study of ‘Byzantium’ evolved last of all in those areas most directly part of the heritage: the Greek-speaking regions of the south Balkans and Asia Minor. An interest did exist throughout the Tourkokratia, the period of Ottoman control, evolving especially towards the end of the eighteenth century, but less as a revival of interest in the Byzantine past than as a re-directing of already existing intellectual currents, from a more-or-less strictly ‘Orthodox’ view of the God-guarded empire and its heritage, to a more openly pluralistic and, dare one say, more ‘scientific’ attitude, as the effects of rationalism and the Enlightenment were felt.
The Enlightenment did not necessarily signal an enlightened approach to Byzantium. The judgement of Edward Gibbon (1776–89) is all too familiar, a view determined largely by the eighteenth-century English interpretation of Greek philosophy and the stoic values of the Roman republic (which fitted comfortably with the self-image of the English upper class), together with the distaste felt by many enlightenment thinkers for the politics of the medieval Church, eastern or western—a view also shared, to a degree at least, by Greek rationalist thinkers such as Adamantios Koraes (1748–1833). The ‘rationalist’ hostility to Byzantium displayed by writers such as Gibbon is, of course, quite different from the prurient moralizing (p. 8) hostility of later writers of the Victorian age such as William Lecky, whose views Gibbon would probably have found equally distasteful (Lecky 1869: vol. 2, 13–14): ‘Of that Byzantine empire, the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed. There has been no other enduring civilisation so absolutely destitute of all forms and elements of greatness, and none to which the epithet mean maybe so emphatically applied … The history of the empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs, and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude.’
Byzantine Studies, in the sense of the study of Byzantine history, language, and literature has a long pedigree, as we have seen. But whether we consider Hieronymus Wolf, Edward Gibbon, or Karl Krumbacher (Beck 1966, 1958) to be the founders of ‘modern’ Byzantine Studies, it is clear that, more than with many other areas of the study of past societies, it is a multi-disciplinary and, perhaps most importantly, a multicultural field. In this it reflects its subject, itself a multicultural and, for much of its history, a polyglot state in which the Greek language and the Orthodox Church served among many other elements as key unifying factors. The enormous range of material presented in this volume provides a neat illustration of the point. Yet at the same time the situation of the empire itself, and the nature of the skills and study which are required to pursue Byzantine culture and civilization intellectually and academically—on the margins of mainstream ‘western’ culture, so to speak—has sometimes had negative results, insofar as Byzantine Studies can be seen as an esoteric and somewhat marginal area of interest. To some extent this is a result of the languages of the sources, and partly also a result of the geographical centre of the field as it first developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, well away from most of the regions where the subject first evolved.
Only in Greece (and in emigré Greek communities) is Byzantium ‘mainstream’, and this has, in turn, brought its own particular disadvantages. For here the exigencies of cultural politics, ethno-history, the continued role of the Orthodox Church and its particular view of the Byzantine past, along with contemporary national political issues of identity and relations with neighbouring states and cultures, have all combined to affect the ways in which Byzantium has been appropriated, studied, and re-presented to the indigenous consumer of recent and contemporary Greek culture. The internal debate has in turn had its effects upon the external readership, so that both a romantic Philhellenic and an anti-Hellenic perspective can be detected in the writings of non-Greek Byzantinists (Cameron 1992). The literature on this topic is considerable and well known, and it is unnecessary to pursue the subject further in this context. But it is important to bear it in mind, because the bifocal lens of Byzantine studies—informed both by an ‘internal’ perspective of those born and brought up within the modern Hellenic tradition, and by an ‘external’ point of view of those outside modern Greek culture—has determined a good deal of the discourse of Byzantinists.
(p. 9) Byzantine Studies, as we have now seen, is a convenient term that comprises a vast range of sub-fields which often have little direct contact one to another—indeed, the contents of this volume illustrate this very clearly. But these sub-fields, if that is an appropriate term, themselves fall into two broad categories: instrumental and interpretational. By the former, we mean those disciplines which are primarily concerned with the preparation and analysis of source material of one type or another, without which it must reasonably be conceded that no more broadly based interpretative or generalizing study can properly be effected. And because of the nature of the sources, whether literary, epigraphic, archaeological, or visual representational, the instrumental tradition has tended, by necessity, to dominate the field of Byzantine Studies as a whole. Most ‘Byzantinists’ possess a competence in at least one, and usually more than one, of these instrumental skills. Such skills are rooted in the positivism of nineteenth-century notions of ‘scientificity’ which have dominated and moulded European and North American historiographical thinking, and it has been until recently the emphasis on the technical and methodological skills which are required for the internal and external assessment of textual evidence that have dominated—quite correctly, of course, in many respects—the training of those who wanted to study Byzantium more closely. In particular, the methods and priorities of classical philology have necessarily had a major influence, even if this is no longer the case today (and without pronouncing any value judgements in that regard). While there are many individual exceptions, however, this necessary emphasis on skills also tends to discourage conscious theorizing and reflection. Theoretical abstraction has been avoided without too many qualms as largely unnecessary, enabling specialists to pursue their aims using methods which, by virtue of their proven scientific value, are seen as more-or-less neutral. Such an approach inevitably has important implications for how Byzantinists understand their purchase on ‘the past’, and the ways in which knowledge of the past is constructed or generated.
In the 1980s some of the traditional views were subject to questioning, reflecting a broader trend in history-writing and an ongoing debate between those who were interested in challenging the theoretical assumptions underlying and informing their research, and those who were not interested in such debates, preferring to see them either as irrelevant or as inaccessible (Haldon 1984). Byzantine Studies was itself in the mid-1980s in the process of what T. S. Kuhn referred to as a ‘paradigm shift’, a process through which a traditional set (or sets) of assumptions and priorities, as well as theories and approaches, is replaced or complemented and then transformed by different sets of ideas. The changes in the nature of the subject and in those who pursue it have not been particularly marked, yet there did take place considerable movement in attitudes and assumptions about what is acceptable material for study and what are appropriate questions to ask. This was in some respects entirely predictable: changes in social and cultural values and priorities, in secondary education, and in the context of the major political (p. 10) issues of the day, naturally worked themselves through to the level of university and college degree programmes. The effects of gender-studies programmes and feminist history-writing in particular have been seen in the sorts of social history questions which are now being asked, especially by successive generations of younger scholars. But equally impressive changes in the agendas of art historians and archaeologists have also taken place, with the result that the subject, or bundle of subjects, known as ‘Byzantine Studies’ looks today very different from only twenty years ago.
Since the quality of Byzantine art has been more frequently appreciated than the character of its history or literature, art history has claimed a good proportion of scholarly attention. Yet the superficial (but often voiced) view of the study of the art of Byzantium is that it has developed to a great extent in isolation from other disciplines of the field, and even from the broader interests of art history that it is really the empirical study of material objects from an archaeological standpoint. In fact a historiography of Byzantine art history shows up considerable responsiveness to intellectual trends, and its development has been a complex mix of national and international interests.
Interest in the art history of Byzantium was until the middle of the nineteenth century virtually the preserve of French and German scholars, and their concern was with the ‘neo-Greek’ character of the culture (Crinson 1996: 73). The subject then flourished internationally in response to current aesthetic and political attitudes, church debates, and personal whims for medievalism (Bullen 2003: 4). In Britain, John Ruskin was a prime mover through his best-selling book The Stones of Venice (1851–3) and his critical promotion of the church of San Marco and consequently interest in Byzantine art was advanced initially through the study of architecture, thereby avoiding the negative Enlightenment attitudes of Gibbon. Influential on Ruskin was the traveller Robert Curzon (1849: 34–40), who in turn owed many of his attitudes about the ‘intellectual’ and ‘passionless’ character of Byzantine art to A. N. Didron's Manuel d ʼiconographie chrétienne (1845) with its publication of the eighteenth-century Hermeneia of Dionysius of Fourna which, despite its late date, was interpreted to show the subservience of Byzantine artists to the Church and their lack of originality (see Hetherington 1974). A well-rounded interest in the antiquities of Byzantium emerged in the key monograph by W. R. Lethaby and H. Swainson, The Church of Sancta Sophia, Constantinople: A Study of Byzantine Building (1894) . The arts and crafts architect and architectural historian Lethaby was influential in raising the profile of Byzantium in Britain, and he encouraged young architects to travel to the British School of Archaeology at Athens and to record the Byzantine monuments of Greece and Asia Minor. A feature of this intense period of activity up to the 1914 war was the combination of architectural draughtsmanship and photography to record Byzantine monuments in fieldwork by energetic teams from Germany, Russia, France, and Britain. Particularly thorough were the photographic campaigns of Millet all over Greece and of de Jerphanion in Cappadocia.
(p. 11) The ‘big question’ that lay behind this activity was the origin of Early Christian and Byzantine art. The centrally planned domed church of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople was at the centre of this debate. It was energized by Strzygowski (1901) who first looked for sources in the Hellenistic East but then moved his sights to the east beyond the Graeco-Roman world and into Iran, with Armenia as the intermediary for the transmission of oriental ideas. The opposing view was that the antecedents of the dome lay in imperial Rome alone. The argument in these stark binary terms was brought to an end by Ward-Perkins (1947), who set out the case for the development of early Christian architecture within the Roman Empire, while recognizing the complexity of Roman architecture itself. The striking discoveries at Dura Europos made no difference to this interpretation of the importance of Rome (despite Breasted 1924), but the great geographical range of eastern Roman Christian monuments does cast doubts on what exactly the term Byzantine art and architecture should ideally encompass and how broad its definition should be. The question remains: the most popular definition of Byzantine art has been as the art of Constantinople, but it is the narrowest and may distort our perceptions, since it sets the notion of a norm against which variations may be seen negatively as provincial or inferior. The current discourse sees the genesis of Byzantine art as a progressive ‘transformation’ of Graeco-Roman art rather than a rejection of it. But it avoids the question whether the category of Byzantine art represents a political state, a religion, or a style (Mango 1991).
Byzantine architectural history has followed four approaches (Mango 1991): classifications of buildings by typology and by so-called regional ‘schools’ the approach to architecture as symbolic or ideological (ways in which dome, for example, symbolized heaven) the functional approach to explaining architectural forms and features (expounded by Krautheimer 1942 and Grabar 1946) and the social and economic approach (as in Tchalenko 1953–8). These can be said to match the approaches in other art histories too.
Questions of origins equally engaged Russian scholarship, which judiciously compared the contributions of the Hellenistic east and Rome (Kondakov 1886 Ainalov 1961 Lazarev 1947–8), with attention particularly focused on the evidence of manuscripts. Manuscript study was also promoted by Wickhoff (1895) through his rehabilitation of Late Antiquity and emphasis on the innovations of the Vienna Genesis. Book illustration became the training ground for art historians for much of the twentieth century. Weitzmann (1947) set out a philological method for the study of manuscripts which made assumptions about the quantity of illuminated books in antiquity and the derivative character of Byzantine manuscripts. His methodology operated on the assumption that the processes of copying pictures were subject to the same ‘rules’ as the transmission of texts, and that they all derived from a ‘correct’ archetype. Although influential, in time this was criticized for exaggerating the study of the postulated lost model over the surviving materials (see Walter 1971 Lowden 1992). Weitzmann's practice was undermined by the approach (p. 12) of der Nersessian (1962), who sought not the sources of the ninth-century Homilies of Gregory but an analysis of how its producers conceived and chose the cycle of pictures to demonstrate the meanings and allusions of each of the patristic sermons. Meanwhile a broader, highly formalist, approach to Byzantine art was pursued by Kitzinger (1976), concerned to deduce the dialectics of stylistic change (and the disruption of iconoclasm), which owed much to the treatment of Renaissance art by Wölfflin (1915) and the Viennese school of art history.
Manuscript study was gradually superseded as the main focus of art historical attention as major discoveries were made in Constantinople by the Byzantine Institute set up by Whittemore who in 1932 initiated the campaigns to uncover the mosaics of Hagia Sophia and the Kariye Camii. After 1959 under the auspices of Dumbarton Oaks this work of uncovering and consolidation of monuments and their decoration in Istanbul was continued and expanded to Cyprus, with the effect of shifting attention away from Ravenna and Italy and towards the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time publication of monuments in Greece and the Balkans continued apace, and the work of, among others, Djurić, Orlandos, Soteriou, Xyngopoulos, Chatzidakis, and Mouriki documented the quantity and nature of the surviving heritage in Greece (and its post-Byzantine monuments). This interest in establishing the dates and stylistic sequences of Byzantine art was matched in the themes of the International Congresses in which Byzantine art was treated in key periods or centuries. The broader debate within the coverage of monumental art was the so-called ‘Byzantine Question’, or how to measure the contribution of Byzantium to the emergence of the Italian Renaissance. Demus (1948, 1950, 1970) set out a definition of the nature of mosaic decoration, explored its diffusion to the west (more subtly than Byron and Talbot Rice 1931), and rejected the conventional art historical attitude inherited from Giorgio Vasari (1511–74) which assumed that the Italian Renaissance was a denial of the Byzantine tradition. Demus set out the case that east and west were in close contact in the thirteenth century and gradually followed different (but not unrelated) paths in the fourteenth century.
The next major shift in emphasis came with the discovery and ongoing publication of the icons of the Monastery of St Catherine's (see Soteriou 1956–8 Weitzmann 1982) with the revelation that panel painting was a major medium throughout the Byzantine period, and that despite its distance from Constantinople the monastery holds the works of the highest quality. Weitzmann 1982 gave considerable attention to icons which he interpreted as the work of western artists, following the methodology of Buchthal 1957 derived from the study of manuscripts from the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Considerable research has recently been devoted to the study and conservation of icons in other Orthodox monasteries and collections to establish the functions and roles of icons (and this has been helped by the existence of documentary evidence about art in the notarial archive of Venetian Crete). Belting 1990 has surveyed this material and shown the importance of the (p. 13) eleventh- and twelfth-century monastery in the formation of new patterns of the devotion of icons in Easter and other rituals, including the cult of miraculous icons.
Maguire 1992 has described some patterns of recent art history (interest in art and text art and liturgy). In common with the art history of other periods the main shift of emphasis has been from the stylistic appreciation of masterpieces from the producer's perspective (as in Talbot Rice 1959) to the anthropological analysis of the viewing of images within society (Cormack 1985 Nelson 2000). This move to a post-structuralist theoretical framework was assisted by the highly influential collection of texts about art of Mango 1972.
The paradox of Byzantine art history is that its treatment is often seen as fragmented and confined to specialist literature, yet it has been the constant subject of surveys covering the whole period (as Dalton 1911, Diehl 1925–6). These have covered the general questions of their period, and what media and materials have survived, and how the losses from Constantinople might distort the sequence. The agenda of these surveys owes much to national traditions and interests, and are biased by their choice of supporting literatures and their attitudes. Indeed a recent polemical survey on the origins of the representation of images of Christ caricatures a supposed European imperial bias distinct from a more egalitarian, presumably transatlantic, position (Mathews 1993). The current agenda of art history is to a large part prompted not by theoretical interests but by major exhibitions of selected materials in major European and American galleries. Such displays bring together new discoveries and the key materials of the field and invite public appreciation and scholarly interpretation. These exhibitions prompt the question of how Byzantine art is aligned with the history of world art, and what kinds of art history intersect with its traditional questions.
Some of the developments outlined here are simply the natural result of a shift in attention introduced by successive generations of scholars and students. But it is also true that changes that occurred from the late 1970s were faster and more far-reaching than those beforehand, and that a real broadening of the intellectual agenda took place which contrasted very strikingly with the slower rate of change of the period from before the Second World War until the 1970s. Two fields in particular benefited from closer engagement with ongoing theoretical debates, namely art history (discussed above) and literary studies (Brubaker 1992 Mullett 1990). Attitudes towards Byzantine literature have traditionally been deeply conservative and largely modelled on older approaches towards classical texts: the prime focus has been on the production of critical editions, with manuscript and linguistic studies as a secondary goal. The Corpus Fontium Byzantinae Historiae, which since 1967 has been providing modern editions of the Byzantine historians to replace the nineteenth-century Bonn Corpus, follows this austere pattern, though increasingly including a translation into a modern language. It is striking that, although there are a number of series which provide parallel texts and translations (e.g. Loeb: Prokopios, the Greek Anthology Budé: Psellos, Chronographia, Anna Komnene, (p. 14) Alexiad Sources Chrétiennes: Kosmas Indicopleustes) with limited annotation, there are as yet virtually no serious attempts at full literary commentaries despite challenging examples of successful literary interpretations (e.g. Smith 1999) and vigorous exhortation from critics such as Alexander Kazhdan or Jakov Ljubarskij (1998).
As with social and economic history, which had similarly engaged to an extent with developments inaugurated in other fields, Byzantine Studies as a whole remained peculiarly slow to take up—even if only to debate with and to reject— some of the issues raised. This was nicely illustrated by Alexander Kazhdan and Giles Constable's People and Power in Byzantium: An Introduction to Modern Byzantine Studies, which presented historiographical debates about structuralism, for example, as though they were relatively new, when in fact they had long dominated the scene outside Byzantine Studies (Kazhdan and Constable 1982). Certainly, individuals in many areas of the subject demonstrated a willingness to challenge a given consensus, but they had little direct influence, apart from in the tendency and direction of their own further work. This conservatism, or perhaps caution, may be ascribed to the rather self-contained character of the field as a whole. It is perhaps ironic that the study of the Byzantine world and its culture, economy, and society evolved directly out of classical philology, and classical philology, with its earlier empirical and positivist emphasis, bequeathed to Byzantine Studies a similar tendency. Yet this seems now somewhat paradoxical, insofar as the last quarter of the twentieth century saw classical philology open up to developments both in structural linguistics, comparative literary theory, and post-structuralist critiques of traditional approaches to notions of author, reader, and intertextuality, while the study of Roman history, society, and institutions was likewise transformed from the 1960s by similar developments as well as by exciting advances in archaeology and related sciences.
The study of Byzantium is by no means impervious to the influence and effects of the debates in historical and social scientific theory which carry on around it. Discussion about authorial intention (in respect of the multiple possibilities open to the reader of a text, written or visual), or the culturally determined nature of perception, have opened up new debates about interpretational possibilities and the sorts of questions that can be asked of the evidence. But other debates, in particular those surrounding the culturally determined construction of evidence itself have, on the whole, remained marginal to the concerns of Byzantinists. This is especially true of what has loosely come to be referred to as ‘post modernism’. With a few exceptions, Byzantinists again have tended to shy away from such discussion, relying for their interpretational framework upon the unstated assumptions of the positivism of traditional western historiography. In the 1990s the effects of debates about what was called the New Historicism and of post-modernism left few marks on Byzantine Studies, again with the exception of those actively involved in art and literary theory (see, for example, Stone 1991, Joyce 1991, Kelly 1991). Discussions (p. 15) among historians and philosophers of history around issues raised by debates about the epistemological status of history-writing and the ontological status of the past produced polarizations of opinion which hardly touched most Byzantinists, although this is not to say that they were unaware of them—there is often a gap between personal intellectual practice and the intellectual or institutional context in which it exists.
In spite of the fact that it represents one of the most interesting examples of a late ancient state formation which survived, with substantial modifications, well into the medieval period, the Byzantine Empire has received remarkably little attention from either comparative historians or state theorists, certainly when compared with the treatment afforded Rome, out of which Byzantium evolved. This is a reflection, we suggest, of the fact that historians and specialists of the Byzantine world have generally been reluctant to generalize from their work or to draw broader conclusions within a comparative context. One result has been that the subject has remained fairly difficult of access to the non-specialist, although in the first decade of the twenty-first century a number of general histories appeared which began to break down this relative isolation (Treadgold 1997 Haldon 2000 Gregory 2005 Mitchell 2007 Cameron 2007).
There have been an increasing number of challenges to the intellectual caution of the field. Significant innovative perspectives have been opened up, especially in the study of Byzantine literature (e.g. Cameron 1991 Mullett 1997) but also, under the influence of western medieval and Roman archaeology, in the study of Byzantine material culture, urbanism, and related phenomena. But the lack of synthesizing works by specialists in the field, which would put Byzantium into a longer-term comparative perspective, means that outsiders still tend to pass over Byzantium with little or no comment. Work by scholars such as Peter Brown (1971, 1981) and Alexander Kazhdan (1974) on aspects of the social-cultural history of the late Roman, Byzantine, and western medieval worlds, by Michael McCormick (1998, 2001) on the ways in which the Islamic and East Roman, and medieval Italian and Frankish worlds, were connected through patterns of travel and communication, Chris Wickham (2005) on the evolution of society and economy across the European and Mediterranean worlds after the fifth century ce , or Alan Harvey (1989) and Michel Kaplan (1992) on the agrarian economics of Byzantium in their wider context, began to address the issues from a broader, comparative perspective. But even in 2008 Byzantium still appears frequently, especially in general histories and more popular literature, as some sort of uniquely privileged survival, a haven of Orthodox spirituality, Roman law, and oriental despotism, taken as a special case rather than in its natural Balkan and Anatolian context. Those working from a broader comparative standpoint have only recently begun, and mostly fairly superficially, to integrate the Byzantine world into their syntheses. The first volume of Michael Mann's admirable survey, The Sources of Social Power (1986) , mentions it briefly and problematically the second volume of Runciman's A Treatise on (p. 16) Social Theory (1989) is just as brief, although better in respect of the conclusions it draws most other comparativist surveys—for example, Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies (1988) —barely pay lip-service to the Byzantine case. Perry Anderson's Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (1974) pays serious attention to the East Roman context, but his very able treatment is vitiated for today's reader in part by the fact that since the time of writing in the early 1970s, a number of important advances in understanding how the East Roman state evolved have been made. In addition, most of these debates were distorted still by a perspective which tended, even if unintentionally, to present medieval eastern Roman culture as stagnant and fossilized, thus further inhibiting any possibility of seeing the dynamic structures which underlay the apparently slow rates of change evident in some of the sources. But it is perhaps indicative of the situation that work of this sort, even if flawed and problematic, has largely been the product of outside specialists and comparativists, and with few exceptions (e.g. Haldon 1993, 1995) has met with little response from inside the field. A good example was the attempt to place Byzantine culture in a comparative and ‘civilizational’ context as part of a critique of work on the ‘Byzantine’ background to Balkan and eastern European history (Arnasson 2000), which was not read by Byzantinists.
The Byzantine world and Byzantine Studies have attracted ‘outside’ attention in two further respects: first, in respect of the evolution of the so-called ‘Byzantine commonwealth’, that is to say, the development of a distinctly ‘Byzantinizing’ cultural zone in eastern and south-eastern Europe and western Russia. Here, Byzantine traditions, predominantly in respect of Orthodox Christianity and ecclesiastical organization, and in the associated culture of an imperial court with ecumenical pretensions, became firmly established and influenced the development of those cultures thereafter, and until the present day in certain respects. This influence was not restricted to the level of popular piety and Church structures, or to palace culture and religious art it affected also attitudes to and definitions of power, the relationship between ruler and elite, and between centre and periphery. Although there have been few broadly comparative treatments from outside the specialist field (again, Mann and Runciman deserve mention, both of whom approached the issue from very different perspectives, and neither said very much on the question of Byzantine influence), a useful descriptive account of the issues by a specialist did appear (Obolensky 1971) which served as a good starting point for further comparative work.
The second case is to do with transition or transformation: where the Byzantine world impinges directly on the outside world, and especially upon the history of western medieval Europe, it has attracted greater attention. Thus the period from the later fourth to the seventh century, during which the western Roman world was transformed into the various ‘Germanic’ successor kingdoms, and during which the Roman Empire in its supposedly traditional form finally disappeared, has attracted some comparative historical discussion, in which broader issues are raised (e.g. de Ste. Croix 1981 (p. 17) Cameron 1993 Haldon 1993, 1995). Even more explicitly, the period of the Crusades, and in particular the first to fourth crusades (c.1097–1204), during which Byzantine and western Christian cultures came into direct and sometimes hostile contact, has been an important stimulus to comparative work, both in respect of cultural history as well as in terms of political structures and the social relationships underlying them. This has been most apparent in the debate about whether or not Byzantium was ever ‘feudal’ in the western sense, even if that debate now seems passé (see Reynolds 1994), but it has affected other aspects of the history of the Byzantine world also (e.g. Jacoby 1993).
The greatest advantage Byzantine Studies possesses is, arguably, its international and multicultural intellectual and institutional base. Whatever the difficulties faced by scholars of Byzantine culture and history in their different national contexts, and however conservative or radical some elements of that very considerable international body may be, its internationalism means that it is an enormously lively subject, and its exponential growth over the last thirty to forty years means that new influences, new currents, new approaches to old problems, and new ways of working to resolve some of those problems are a regular feature of every major international conference or symposium. And increasingly this body of scholarship and intellectual endeavour is impacting on neighbouring areas of study.
This volume is intended to give a picture of the state of Byzantine Studies today, with bibliographies and references to guide the neophyte reader. As many of the subject's constituent areas as proved feasible have been covered: their number and variety are solid evidence of the vigour of the subject at present and an indication of the challenges and issues that demand future debate.
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