The Iconoclastic controversy
Iconoclasts and iconodules agreed on one fundamental point: a Christian people could not prosper unless it assumed the right attitude toward the holy images, or icons. They disagreed, of course, on what that attitude should be. Each could discover supporting arguments in the writings of the early church, and it is essential to remember that the debate over images is as old as Christian art. The fundamentals of Iconoclasm were by no means an 8th-century discovery. The ablest defender of the iconodule position was, however, the 8th-century theologian St. John of Damascus. Drawing upon Neoplatonic doctrine, John suggested that the image was but a symbol; the creation of the icon was justified since, by virtue of the Incarnation, God had himself become man.
The iconoclasts responded by pointing to the express wording of the Second Commandment. The condemnation therein of idolatry seems to have weighed heavily with Leo III, who may have been influenced by Islam, a religion that strictly prohibited the use of religious images. The latter point is debatable, as is the contention that Iconoclasm was particularly an expression of sentiment to be found in the eastern themes of the empire. There is little doubt, however, that Monophysitism influenced the ideas of Constantine V and, through him, the course of debate during the last half of the 8th century. In the eyes of the Monophysite, who believed in the single, indistinguishable, divine nature of Christ, the iconodule was guilty of sacrilege. Either he was a Nestorian, reducing the divine nature to human terms in the image, or he was a Chalcedonian Dyophysite, radically distinguishing that which man could not distinguish. Still another consideration favouring Iconoclasm may be found in the intimate connection of iconoclastic doctrine with the emperor's conception of his role as God's vicegerent on Earth. During the late 6th and 7th centuries, iconodule emperors had viewed themselves in a pietistic fashion, emphasizing their devotion and subservience to God. Constantine V, on the other hand, pridefully replaced the icons with imperial portraits and with representations of his own victories. Viewed in this light, Iconoclasm signaled a rebirth of imperial confidence; so deservedly great was Constantine's reputation, and so dismal were the accomplishments of his successors, that a Leo V, for one, could easily believe that God favored the iconoclastic battalions.
Under Constantine V, the struggle against the icons became a struggle against their chief defenders, the monastic community. The immediate destruction wrought by Constantine and his zealous subordinates is, however, of less moment than the lasting effect of the persecution on the Orthodox clergy. Briefly put, the church became an institution rent by factions, wherein popular discontent found a means of expression.
Intransigent iconodules looked for their leaders among the monks of Studion, the monastery founded by Studius, and they found one in the person of the monastery's abbot, St. Theodore Studites (759-826). In the patriarch Ignatius (847-858; 867-877) they discovered a spokesman after their own hearts: one drawn from the monastic ranks and contemptuous of all the allurements that the world of secular learning seemed to offer. More significant than the men to be found on the other extreme, iconoclast patriarchs, including Anastasius and John Grammaticus, were the representatives of the moderate party, composed of the patriarchs Tarasius, Nicephorus, Methodius, and Photius. Although iconodule in sympathy, the group enjoyed little rapport with the monastic zealots. Unlike the average monk, they were often educated laymen, trained in the imperial service and ready to compromise with imperial authority.
Not only was Iconoclasm a major episode in the history of the Byzantine, or Orthodox, Church, but it also permanently affected relations between the empire and Roman Catholic Europe. The Lombard advance, it may be remembered, had restricted Byzantine authority in Italy to the Exarchate of Ravenna, and to that quarter the popes of the 7th century, themselves ordinarily of Greek or Syrian origin, turned for protection against the common enemy. During the 8th century, two issues alienated Rome from Constantinople: Iconoclasm and quarrels stemming from the question of who should enjoy ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Illyricum and over Calabria in southern Italy. Pope Gregory II refused to accept the iconoclastic doctrines of Leo III; and his successor, Gregory III, had openly to condemn them at a council. Once Ravenna fell to the Lombards, and the exarchate ceased to exist in 751, the papacy had to seek a new protector. This was found in the person of the Frankish leader Pepin III, who sought some form of sanction to legitimize his seizure of the crown from the feeble hands of the last representative of the Merovingian dynasty. Thus Pope Stephen II (or III) anointed Pepin as king of the Franks in 754, and the latter entered Italy to take arms against the Lombard king. Even the restoration of icon veneration in 787 failed to bridge the differences between Orthodox Byzantium and Catholic Europe, for the advisers of Pepin's son and successor, Charlemagne, condemned the iconodule position as heartily as an earlier generation had rejected the iconoclast decrees of Leo III. Nor could the men of Charlemagne's time admit that a woman--the empress Irene--might properly assume the dignity of emperor of the Romans. For all these reasons, Charlemagne, king of the Franks and Lombards by right of conquest, assented to his coronation as emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day, 800, by Pope Leo III. No longer a barbarian king, Charlemagne became, by virtue of the symbolism of the age, a new Constantine. This the Byzantine chancery could not accept, for, if there were one God, one faith, and one truth, then there could be but one empire and one emperor; surely that emperor ruled in Constantinople, not in Charlemagne's Aachen. Subsequent disputes between Rome and Constantinople seemed often to centre upon matters of ecclesiastical discipline; underlying these differences were two more powerful considerations, neither of which could be ignored. According to theory there could be but one empire; clearly, there were two. And between Rome and Constantinople there stood two groups of peoples open to conversion: the Slavs of central Europe and the Bulgars in the Balkans. From which of the two jurisdictions would these people accept their Christian discipline? To which, in consequence, would they owe their spiritual allegiance?
The reign of Michael III (ruled 842-867) draws together these and other threads from the past. Veneration of the icons was definitely rehabilitated in 843; and it was done in so diplomatic a fashion that the restoration, in itself, produced no new rifts, although old factionalisms persisted with the appointment of a monk, Ignatius, as patriarch. The latter's intransigent zealotry found little favour with Caesar Bardas, Michael's uncle, who had seized power from the Empress Regent in 856. Two years later Ignatius was deposed and replaced by a moderate: the scholar and layman Photius. No single person better exemplified the new age, nor, indeed, did any other play a larger part in the cultural rebirth and missionary activity among the Slavs, Bulgars, and Russians, which mark the middle of the 9th century. The same aggressive and enterprising spirit is manifest in the military successes won on the Asia Minor frontier, culminating in Petronas' victory at Poson (863) over the Muslim emir of Melitene.
In Sicily, and throughout the Mediterranean, Byzantine arms were less successful, but, thanks to Photius' diplomatic skill, the see of Constantinople maintained its position against Rome during the so-called Photian Schism. When Pope Nicholas I challenged Photius' elevation to the patriarchate, deploring as uncanonical the six days' speed with which he had been advanced through the successive ranks of the hierarchy, the Byzantine patriarch refused to bow. He skillfully persuaded Nicholas' delegates to a council summoned at Constantinople to investigate the matter that he was the lawful patriarch despite the persisting claims of the rival Ignatian faction. Nicholas, alleging that his men had been bribed, excommunicated Photius; a council at Constantinople responded (867) by excommunicating Nicholas in turn. The immediate issues between the two sees were matters of ecclesiastical supremacy, the liturgy, and clerical discipline; behind these sources of division lay the question of jurisdiction over the converts in Bulgaria. And behind that question may be found centuries of growing separation between the minds and institutions of the eastern and the western Mediterranean worlds, symbolized in the roles assumed by two among the major protagonists in the Photian Schism. It was the supreme spiritual authority, the pope, who hurled anathemas from the West, but it was God's vicegerent on Earth, the emperor Michael III, who presided at the council of 867.
Michael did not long survive this moment of triumph. Later that year, he was murdered by his favourite, Basil, who, on his bloody path to the throne, had earlier disposed of Caesar Bardas. As had Heraclius and Leo III before him, Basil came to found a dynasty, in this instance the Macedonian house. Unlike his predecessors, he came not as a saviour but as a peasant adventurer to seize an already sound empire whose next centuries were to be its greatest (see also Eastern Orthodoxy: History).
From 867 to the Ottoman conquest
The Macedonian era: 867-1025
Under the Macedonians, at least until the death of Basil II in 1025, the empire enjoyed a golden age. Its armies regained the initiative against the Arabs in the East, and its missionaries evangelized the Slavs, extending Byzantine influence in Russia and the Balkans. And, despite the rough military character of many of the emperors, there was a renaissance in Byzantine letters and important developments in law and administration. At the same time there were signs of decay: resources were squandered at an alarming rate; there was growing estrangement from the West; and a social revolution in Anatolia was to undermine the economic and military strength of the empire.
The empire was in theory an elective monarchy with no law of succession. But the desire to found and perpetuate a dynasty was strong, and it was often encouraged by popular sentiment. This was especially true in relation to the Macedonian dynasty, the founder, Basil I, having murdered his way to the throne in 867. Probably of Armenian descent, though they had settled in Macedonia, Basil's family was far from distinguished and can hardly have expected to produce a line of emperors that lasted through six generations and 189 years. But, having acquired the imperial crown, Basil tried to make sure that his family would not lose it and nominated three of his sons as coemperors. Though he was his least favourite, through the scholarly Leo VI, who succeeded him in 886, the succession was at least secure. Even the three soldier-emperors who usurped the throne during the Macedonian era were conscious, in varying degrees, that they were protecting the rights of a legitimate heir during a minority: Romanus I Lecapenus for Constantine VII, the son of Leo VI; and Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces for Basil II, the grandson of Constantine VII.
A reassertion of Byzantine military and naval power in the East began with victories over the Arabs by Michael III's general Petronas in 856. From 863 the initiative lay with the Byzantines. The struggle with the Arabs, which had long been a struggle for survival, became a mounting offensive that reached its brilliant climax in the 10th century. By 867 a well-defined boundary existed between the Byzantine Empire and the territory of the 'Abbasid caliphate. Its weakest point was in the Taurus Mountains above Syria and Antioch. Basil I directed his operations against this point, recovered Cyprus for a while, and campaigned against the Paulicians, a heretical Christian sect whose anti-imperial propaganda was effective in Anatolia. But the conflict with Islam was one that concerned the whole empire, in the West as well as in the East, and by sea as well as by land. In 902 the Arabs completed the conquest of Sicily, but they were kept out of the Byzantine province of South Italy, for whose defense Basil I had even made some effort to cooperate with the Western emperor Louis II. The worst damage, however, was done by Arab pirates who had taken over the island of Crete. In 904 they plundered Thessalonica, carrying off quantities of loot and prisoners. Leo VI sent a naval expedition to Crete in 911, but the Muslims drove it off and humiliated the Byzantine navy off Chios in 912.
On the eastern frontier, the Byzantine offensive was sustained with great success during the reign of Romanus I Lecapenus by an Armenian general John Curcuas (Gurgen), who captured Melitene (934) and then Edessa (943), advancing across the Euphrates into the caliph's territory. It was Curcuas who paved the way for the campaigns of the two soldier-emperors of the next generation. In 961 Nicephorus Phocas, then domestic (commander) of the armies in the West, reconquered Crete and destroyed the Arab fleet that had terrorized the Aegean for 150 years; he thereby restored Byzantine naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean. In 962 his strategy achieved unexpected triumphs all along the eastern frontier and culminated in the capture of Aleppo in Syria. When he was proclaimed emperor in March 963, Nicephorus appointed another Armenian general, John Tzimisces, as domestic of the East, though he retained personal command of operations against the Arabs. By 965 he had driven them out of Cyprus and was poised for the reconquest of Syria. The revived morale and confidence of Byzantium in the East showed itself in the crusading zeal of Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces for the reconquest of Syria and the Holy Land. The ground lost to Islam in the 7th century was thus fast being regained; and, although Jerusalem was never reached, the important Christian city of Antioch, seat of one of the patriarchs, was recaptured in 969. These victories were achieved largely by the new cavalry force built up by Nicephorus Phocas. In the areas recovered from the Arabs, land was distributed in military holdings with the interests of the cavalry in mind. But the victories were achieved at the expense of the western provinces, and an attempt to recover Sicily ended in failure in 965.
The campaigns of John Tzimisces, who usurped the throne in 969, were directed against the Emir of Mosul on the Tigris and against the new Fatimid caliph of Egypt, who had designs on Syria. By 975 almost all of Syria and Palestine, from Caesarea to Antioch, as well as a large part of Mesopotamia far to the east of the Euphrates, was in Byzantine control. The way seemed open for Tzimisces to advance to the 'Abbasid capital of Baghdad on the one hand and to Jerusalem and Egypt on the other. But he died in 976 and his successor, Basil II, the legitimate heir of the Macedonian house, concentrated most of his resources on overcoming the Bulgars in Europe, though he did not abandon the idea of further reconquest in the East. The Kingdom of Georgia (Iberia) was incorporated into the empire by treaty. Part of Armenia was annexed, with the rest of it to pass to Byzantium on the death of its king. Basil II personally led two punitive expeditions against the Fatimids in Syria, but otherwise his eastern policy was to hold and to consolidate what had already been gained. The gains can be measured by the number of new themes (provinces) created by the early 11th century in the area between Vaspurakan in the Caucasus and Antioch in Syria. The annexation of Armenia, the homeland of many of the great Byzantine emperors and soldiers, helped to solidify the eastern wall of the Byzantine Empire for nearly a century.
Relations with the Slavs and Bulgars
Although imperial territory in the East could be reclaimed only by military conquest, in the Balkans and in Greece the work of reclamation could be assisted by the diplomatic weapon of evangelization. The Slavs and the Bulgars could be brought within the Byzantine orbit by conversion to Christianity. The conversion of the Slavs was instigated by the patriarch Photius and carried out by the monks Cyril and Methodius from Thessalonica. Their invention of the Slavonic alphabet (Cyrillic and Glagolitic) made possible the translation of the Bible and the Greek liturgy and brought literacy as well as the Christian faith to the Slavic peoples. The work began in the Slavic Kingdom of Moravia and spread to Serbia and Bulgaria. Latin missionaries resented what they considered to be Byzantine interference among the northern Slavs, and there were repeated clashes of interest that further damaged relations between the sees of Rome and Constantinople. The conversion of the Bulgars became a competition between the two churches and was ably exploited by the Bulgar king Boris until, in 870, he opted for Orthodox Christianity on condition of having an archbishop of his own.
The trade with Constantinople that followed the missionaries whetted the appetites of the Slavs and Bulgars for a larger share in the material wealth of Byzantium. Simeon (Symeon) I of Bulgaria, who succeeded his father Boris in 893 and who had been educated at Constantinople, proved to be an even more dangerous enemy than the Arabs. His efforts to become emperor dominated Byzantine history for some 15 years. In 913 he brought his army to the walls of Constantinople, demanding the imperial title. The patriarch, Nicholas Mysticus, appeased Simeon for a time, but it was Romanus Lecapenus who, by patience and diplomacy, undermined the power of the Bulgars and thwarted Simeon's ambitions. Simeon died in 927, and his son Peter I came to terms with Byzantium and married a granddaughter of Romanus.
Relations with Russia
The Russians lay far outside the Roman jurisdiction. Their warships, sailing down the Dnepr from Kiev to the Black Sea, first attacked Constantinople in 860. They were beaten off, and almost at once Byzantine missionaries were sent into Russia. The Russians were granted trading rights in Constantinople in 911, but in 941 and 944, led by Prince Igor, they returned to the attack. Both assaults were repelled, and Romanus I set about breaking down the hostility and isolationism of the Russians by diplomatic and commercial contacts. In 957 Igor's widow, Olga, was baptized and paid a state visit to Constantinople during the reign of Constantine VII; her influence enabled Byzantine missionaries to work with greater security in Russia, thus spreading Christianity and Byzantine culture. Olga's son Svyatoslav was pleased to serve the empire as an ally against the Bulgars from 968 to 969, though his ambition to occupy Bulgaria led to war with Byzantium in which he was defeated and killed. In 971 John Tzimisces accomplished the double feat of humiliating the Russians and reducing Bulgaria to the status of a client kingdom. Byzantine influence over Russia reached its climax when Vladimir of Kiev, who had helped Basil II to gain his throne, received as his reward the hand of the Emperor's sister in marriage and was baptized in 989. The mass conversion of the Russian people followed, with the establishment of an official Russian Church subordinate to the patriarch of Constantinople.
The Bulgars, however, were not content to be vassals of Byzantium and rebelled under Samuel, youngest of the four sons of a provincial governor in Macedonia. Samuel made his capital at Ochrida and created a Bulgarian empire stretching from the Adriatic to the Black Sea and even, for a while, into Greece, though Thessalonica remained Byzantine. The final settlement of the Bulgar problem was worked out by Basil II in a ruthless and methodical military campaign lasting for some 20 years, until, by 1018, the last resistance was crushed. Samuel's dominions became an integral part of the Byzantine Empire and were divided into three new themes. At the same time the Slav principalities of Serbia (Rascia and Dioclea) and Croatia became vassal states of Byzantium, and the Adriatic port of Dyrrhachium came under Byzantine control. Not since the days of Justinian had the empire covered so much European territory. But the annexation of Bulgaria meant that the Danube was now the only line of defense against the more northerly tribes, such as the Pechenegs, Cumans, and Magyars.
Estrangement from the West
The extension of Byzantine interests to the Adriatic, furthermore, had raised again the question of Byzantine claims to South Italy and, indeed, to the whole western part of the old Roman Empire. The physical separation of that empire into East and West had been emphasized by the settlement of the Slavs in the Balkan Peninsula and in Greece, and since the 7th century the two worlds had developed in their different ways. Their differences had been manifested in ecclesiastical conflicts, such as the Photian Schism. The conversion of the Slavs had produced bitterness between the agents of the rival jurisdictions. But the reestablishment of Byzantine authority in Greece and eastern Europe, added to the gains against the Muslim powers in Asia, reinforced the Byzantine belief in the universality of the empire, to which Italy and the West must surely be reunited in time. Until that time came, the fiction was maintained that the rulers of western Europe, like those of the Slavs, held their authority by virtue of their special relationship with the one true emperor in Constantinople.
It was sometimes suggested that a marriage alliance might bring together the Eastern and Western parts of the empire and so provide for a united defense against the common enemy in Sicily--the Arabs. In 944 Romanus II, son of Constantine VII, married a daughter of Hugh of Provence, the Carolingian claimant to Italy. Constantine VII also kept up diplomatic contact with Otto I, the Saxon king of Germany. But the case was dramatically altered when Otto was crowned emperor of the Romans in 962, for this was a direct affront to the unique position of the Byzantine emperor. Otto tried, and failed, to establish his claim, either by force in the Byzantine province in Italy or by negotiation in Constantinople. His ambassador Liudprand of Cremona wrote an account of his mission to Nicephorus Phocas in 968 and of the Emperor's scornful rejection of a proposed marriage between Otto's son and a Byzantine princess. The incident vividly demonstrates the superior attitude of the Byzantines toward the West in the 10th century. John Tzimisces relented to the extent of arranging for one of his own relatives to marry Otto II in 972, though the arrangement implied no recognition of a Western claim to the empire. Basil II agreed that Otto III also should marry a Byzantine princess. But this union was never achieved; and subsequently Basil reorganized the administration of Byzantine Italy and was preparing another campaign against the Arabs in Sicily at the time of his death in 1025. The myth of the universal Roman Empire died hard.
Culture and administration
The Iconoclastic Controversy had aggravated the estrangement of the Byzantine Church and Empire from the West. But it helped to define the tenets of Orthodoxy; and it had an effect on the character of Byzantine society for the future. On the one hand, the church acquired a new unity and vitality: its missionaries spread the Orthodox faith in new quarters of the world, its monasteries proliferated, and its spiritual tradition was carried forward by the sermons and writings of the patriarch Photius in the 9th century and of Symeon the New Theologian in the 10th and 11th centuries. On the other hand, the empire became more aware of its Greco-Roman heritage. Interest in classical Greek scholarship revived following the reorganization of the University of Constantinople under Michael III. The revival was fostered and patronized particularly by the scholar-emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, who saw to the compilation of three great works on the administration, the court ceremonies, and the provinces of his empire. He also commissioned a history of the age to which he contributed a biography of his grandfather Basil I. The age produced little original research, but lexicons (such as the 10th-century Suda), anthologies, encyclopaedias, and commentaries (such as the Lexicon and Bibliotheca of Photius) were produced in great number. The soldier-emperors of the 10th century were less interested in intellectual pursuits, but scholarship received a new impetus in the 11th century with Michael Psellus.
The founder of the dynasty, Basil I, and his son Leo VI, made plain their intention to inaugurate a new era by a restatement of the imperial law. Basil hoped to make a complete revision of the legal code, but only a preliminary textbook (Procheiron) with an introduction (Epanagoge) appeared during his reign. Leo VI, however, accomplished the work with the publication of the 60 books of the Basilica, which Hellenized the legal code of Justinian and made it more intelligible and accessible to lawyers. Additions and corrections to meet the needs of the time were incorporated in Leo's 113 novels (decrees), which represent the last substantial reform of the civil law in Byzantium. Enshrined in this legislation was the principle of the absolute autocracy of the emperor as being himself the law. The Senate, the last vestige of Roman republican institutions, was abolished. Only in the matter of the spiritual welfare of his subjects did the emperor recognize any limits to his authority. The ideal relationship of a dyarchy between emperor and patriarch, the body and the soul of the empire, was written into the Epanagoge of Basil I, in a section probably composed by Photius.
The administration in this period was ever more closely centralized in Constantinople, with an increasingly complex and numerous bureaucracy of officials who received their appointments and their salaries from the emperor. The emperor also controlled the elaborate machinery of the foreign and diplomatic service. Some of his civil servants, however, were powerful enough to play the part of kingmakers, notably Basil, the chamberlain who engineered the ascent to the throne of Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces. Order and the regulation of trade, commerce, and industry in the capital were in the hands of the prefect of the city, whose functions are outlined in the 9th-century Book of the Eparch. He was responsible for organizing and controlling the guilds or colleges of craftsmen and retailers, whose legal rights and duties to the state were strictly circumscribed and supervised. The provinces in Europe and Asia were administered according to their territorial division into themes, which, by the 10th century, numbered more than 30. The themes, though subdivided and reduced in size, retained their military character. Their governors, or strategoi, combined military and civil authority and were directly answerable to the emperor, who appointed them. The army and the navy were, for the most part, recruited from the ranks of soldier-farmers who held hereditary grants of land within the territory of each theme. The border districts were protected by contingents of frontier troops, led by their own officers or lords of the marches. Their exploits and adventures were romanticized in the 10th-century folk-epic of Digenis Akritas. But warfare was studied and perfected as a science, and it was the subject of treatises such as the Tactica of Leo VI, derived from the Strategicon of the emperor Maurice.
Social and economic change
The wars of reconquest on the eastern frontier in this period and the general military orientation of imperial policy brought to the fore a new class of aristocracy, whose wealth and power were based on land ownership and who held most of the higher military posts. Trade and industry in the cities were so rigidly controlled by the government that almost the only profitable form of investment for private enterprise was the acquisition of landed property. The military aristocracy, therefore, took to buying up the farms of free peasants and soldiers and reducing their owners to varying forms of dependence. As the empire grew stronger, the rich became richer. Given the system of agriculture prevailing in Anatolia and the Balkans, every failure of crops, every famine, drought, or plague produced a quota of destitute peasant-soldiers willing to turn themselves and their land over to the protection of a prosperous and ambitious landlord. The first emperor to see the danger in this development was Romanus I Lecapenus, who, in 922 and 934, passed laws to defend the small landowners against the acquisitive instincts of the "powerful"; for he realized that the economic as well as the military strength of the empire depended on the maintenance within the theme system of the institution of free, yet tax-paying, soldier-farmers and peasants in village communities. (Only freemen owed military service.)
Successive emperors after Romanus I enforced and extended his agrarian legislation. But the cost of the campaigns of reconquest from the Arabs had to be met by higher taxation, which drove many of the poorer peasants to sell their lands and to seek security as tenant farmers. Nicephorus Phocas, who belonged to one of the aristocratic landowning families of Anatolia, was naturally reluctant to act against members of his own class, though he adhered to the principle that the rights of the poor should be safeguarded. His laws about land tenure were particularly directed toward the creation of a more mobile force of heavy-armed cavalry recruited from those who could afford the equipment, which inevitably brought changes in the social structure of the peasant militia. On the other hand, Nicephorus took a firm line to prevent the accumulation of further land by the church, and he forbade any addition to the number of monasteries, whose estates, already extensive, were unproductive to the economy.
The last emperor to attempt to deal with the problem of land ownership seriously was Basil II, whose rise to the throne had involved the empire in a bitter and costly war against the aristocratic Sclerus and Phocas families. In 996 Basil promulgated comprehensive punitive legislation against the landed families, ordering the restitution of land acquired from the peasantry since 922 and requiring proof of title to other land going back in some cases as far as 1,000 years. Further, the system of collective responsibility for the payment of outstanding taxes known as the allelengyon now devolved not on the rest of the village community but on the nearest large landowner, whether lay or ecclesiastical. Basil's conquest of Bulgaria somewhat altered the social and economic pattern of the empire, for new themes were created there in which there was no long tradition of a landed aristocracy as in Anatolia. After his death in 1025 the powerful hit back, and the government in Constantinople was no longer able to check the absorption of small freeholders by the great landowners and the consequent feudalization of the empire.
This process was particularly disastrous for the military establishment. The success and prestige of the Byzantine Empire in the Macedonian era to a large extent depended on the unrivaled efficiency of its army in Anatolia. A professional force, yet mainly native to the soil and so directly concerned with the defense of that soil, it had no equal in the Western or the Arab world at the time. And yet it was in this institution that the seeds of decay and disintegration took root; for most of the army's commanders were drawn from the great landowners of Anatolia, who had acquired their riches and their status by undermining the social and economic structure on which its recruitment depended. Basil II had restrained them with such an iron hand that a reaction was inevitable after his death. Indeed, it is doubtful if Byzantine society could have tolerated another Basil II, despite all his triumphs. Soured by long years of civil war at the start of his reign, ascetic and uncultured by nature, Basil embodied the least attractive features of Byzantine autocracy. Some have called him the greatest of all the emperors. But the virtue of philanthropy, which the Byzantines prized and commended in their rulers, was not a part of his greatness; and the qualities that lent refinement to the Byzantine character, among them a love of learning and the arts, were not fostered during his reign. Yet, while Basil was busily earning his title of Bulgaroctonus ("Bulgar Slayer"), St. Symeon the New Theologian was exploring the love of God for man in some of the most poetic homilies in all mystical literature.
Byzantine decline and subjection to Western influences: 1025-1260
Basil II never married. But after his death his relatives remained in possession of the throne until 1056, less because of their efficiency than because of a general feeling among the Byzantine people that the prosperity of the empire was connected with the continuity of the Macedonian dynasty. When Basil's brother Constantine VIII died in 1028, the line was continued in his two daughters, Zoe and Theodora. Zoe was married three times: to Romanus III Argyrus (ruled 1028-34), to Michael IV (1034-41), and to Constantine IX Monomachus (1042-55), who outlived her. When Constantine IX died in 1055, Zoe's sister, Theodora, reigned alone as empress until her death a year later.
The great emperors of the golden age, not all of them members of the Macedonian family, molded the history of that age. The successors of Basil II were rather the creatures of circumstances, because they did not make and seldom molded. In the 56 years from 1025 to 1081, there were 13 emperors. An attempt made by Constantine X Ducas to found a new dynasty was disastrously unsuccessful. Not until the rise of Alexius I Comnenus to power, in 1081, was stability restored by an ensured succession in the Comnenus family, who ruled for more than 100 years (1081-1185).
The state of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century may be compared to that of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, when, after a long period of secure prosperity, new pressures from beyond the frontiers aggravated the latent tensions in society. The brief reigns of Basil II's heirs reflected, and were often the product of, a division in the Byzantine ruling class, a conflict between the military aristocracy of the provinces and the civilian aristocracy, or bureaucracy, of Constantinople. Each faction put up rival emperors. The sophisticated urban aristocracy favoured rulers who would reverse the militaristic trend of the empire and who would expand the civil service and supply them and their families with lucrative offices and decorative titles. The military families, whose wealth lay not in the capital but in the provinces and who had been penalized by Basil II's legislation, favoured emperors who were soldiers and not civil servants. In this they were more realistic, for in the latter part of the 11th century it became ever clearer that the empire's military strength was no longer sufficient to hold back its enemies. The landowners in the provinces appreciated the dangers more readily than the government in Constantinople, and they made those dangers an excuse to enlarge their estates in defiance of all the laws passed in the 10th century. The theme system in Anatolia, which had been the basis of the empire's defensive and offensive power, was rapidly breaking down at the very moment when its new enemies were gathering their strength.
On the other hand, the urban aristocracy of Constantinople, reacting against the brutalization of war, strove to make the city a centre of culture and sophistication. The university was endowed with a new charter by Constantine IX in 1045, partly to ensure a steady flow of educated civil servants for the bureaucracy. The law school was revived under the jurist John Xiphilinus; the school of philosophy was chaired by Michael Psellus, whose researches into every field of knowledge earned him a reputation for omniscience and a great following of brilliant pupils. Psellus--courtier, statesman, philosopher, and historian--is in himself an advertisement for the liveliness of Byzantine society in the 11th century. What he and others like him failed to take into account was that their empire was more and more expending the resources and living on the reputation built up by the Macedonian emperors.
Arrival of new enemies
The new enemies that emerged in the 11th century, unlike the Arabs or the Bulgars, had no cause to respect that reputation. They appeared almost simultaneously on the northern, the eastern, and the western frontiers. It was nothing new for the Byzantines to have to fight on two fronts at once. But the task required a soldier on the throne. The Pechenegs, a Turkic tribe, had long been known as the northern neighbours of the Bulgars. Constantine VII had thought them to be valuable allies against the Bulgars, Magyars, and Russians. But after the conquest of Bulgaria, the Pechenegs began to raid across the Danube into what was then Byzantine territory. Constantine IX allowed them to settle south of the river, where their numbers and their ambitions increased. By the mid-11th century they were a constant menace to the peace in Thrace and Macedonia, and they encouraged the spirit of revolt among the Bogomil heretics in Bulgaria. It was left to Alexius I to avert a crisis by defeating the Pechenegs in battle in 1091.
The new arrivals on the eastern frontier were the Seljuq Turks, whose conquests were to change the whole shape of the Muslim and Byzantine worlds. In 1055, having conquered Persia, they entered Baghdad, and their prince assumed the title of sultan and protector of the 'Abbasid caliphate. Before long they asserted their authority to the borders of Fatimid Egypt and Byzantine Anatolia. They made their first explorations across the Byzantine frontier into Armenia in 1065 and, in 1067, as far west as Caesarea in central Anatolia. The raiders were inspired by the Muslim idea of holy war, and there was at first nothing systematic about their invasion. They found it surprisingly easy, however, to plunder the countryside and isolate the cities, owing to the long neglect of the eastern frontier defenses by the emperors in Constantinople. The emergency lent weight to the military aristocracy in Anatolia who, in 1068, finally secured the election of one of their own number, Romanus IV Diogenes, as emperor. Romanus assembled an army to deal with what he saw as a large-scale military operation. It was a sign of the times that his army was mainly composed of foreign mercenaries. In August 1071 it was defeated at Manzikert, near Lake Van in Armenia. Romanus was taken prisoner by the Seljuq sultan, Alp-Arslan. He was allowed to buy his freedom after signing a treaty, but the opposition in Constantinople refused to have him back as emperor and installed their own candidate, Michael VII. Romanus was treacherously blinded. The Seljuqs were thus justified in continuing their raids and were even encouraged to do so. Michael VII invited Alp-Arslan to help him against his rivals, Nicephorus Bryennius and Nicephorus Botaneiates, each of whom proclaimed himself emperor at Adrianople in 1077 and at Nicaea in 1078. In the four years of ensuing civil war there were no troops to defend the eastern frontier. By 1081 the Turks had reached Nicaea. The heart of the empire's military and economic strength, which the Arabs had never mastered, was now under Turkish rule.
The new enemies in the West were the Normans, who began their conquest of South Italy early in the 11th century. Basil II's project of recovering Sicily from the Arabs had been almost realized in 1042 by the one great general of the post-Macedonian era, George Maniaces, who was recalled by Constantine IX and killed as a pretender to the throne. The Normans thereafter made steady progress in Italy. Led by Robert Guiscard, they carried all before them; in April 1071, Bari, the last remaining Byzantine stronghold, fell after a three-year siege. Byzantine rule in Italy and the hope of a re-conquest of Sicily were at an end.
The disasters at Manzikert and at Bari, in the same year 1071, at opposite extremes of the empire, graphically illustrate the decline of Byzantine power. The final loss of Italy seemed to underline the fact of the permanent division between the Greek East and the Latin West, which was now not only geographical and political but also increasingly cultural and ecclesiastical. In 1054 a state of schism had been declared between the churches of Rome and Constantinople. The political context of the event was the Norman invasion of Italy, which at the time was a matter of as much concern to the papacy as it was to Byzantium. But the event itself, the excommunication of the patriarch Michael Cerularius by Cardinal Humbert in Constantinople, symbolized an irreconcilable difference in ideology. The reform movement in the Roman Church had emphasized an ideal of the universal role of the papacy that was wholly incompatible with Byzantine tradition. Both sides also deliberately aggravated their differences by reviving all the disputed points of theology and ritual that had become battle cries during the Photian Schism in the 9th century. The schism of 1054 passed unnoticed by contemporary Byzantine historians; its significance as a turning point in East-West relations was fully realized only later.
Alexius I and the First Crusade
But even the events of 1071 had not made the decline of Byzantium irretrievable. The shrinking of its boundaries reduced the empire from its status as a dominating world power to that of a small Greek state fighting for survival. That survival now depended on the new political, commercial, and ecclesiastical forces in the West, for it could no longer draw on its former military and economic resources in Anatolia. The civil aristocracy of Constantinople yielded with bad grace. After four years of civil war, the military lords triumphed with the accession of Alexius I Comnenus, the greatest soldier and statesman to hold the throne since Basil II. The history of his reign was written in elegant Greek by his daughter Anna Comnena; and, as she remarks, it began with an empire beset by enemies on all sides. The Normans captured Dyrrhachium (modern Durrės, Alb.) in 1082 and planned to advance overland to Thessalonica. Alexius called on the Venetians to help him, but Robert Guiscard's death in 1085 temporarily eased the Norman problem. The following year the Seljuq sultan died, and the sultanate was split by internal rivalries. Fortune thus played into Alexius's hands by ridding him of two of his besetting enemies. By his own efforts, however, he defeated the Pechenegs in 1091.
The Venetians had been pleased to help drive the Normans out of the Adriatic Sea but demanded a heavy price. In 1082 Alexius granted them trading privileges in Constantinople and elsewhere on terms calculated to outbid Byzantine merchants. This charter was the cornerstone of the commercial empire of Venice in the eastern Mediterranean. But it fed the flames of Byzantine resentment against the Latins; and it provoked the rich, who might have been encouraged to invest their capital in shipbuilding and trade, to rely on the more familiar security of landed property.
The terms that Alexius made with his enemies in the first 10 years of his reign were not meant to be permanent. He fully expected to win back Anatolia from the Seljuqs; his plans, however, were not given time to mature, for matters were precipitated by the arrival in the East of the first crusaders from western Europe (1096). Alexius had undoubtedly solicited the help of mercenary troops from the West but not for the liberation of the Holy Land from the infidel. The urgent need was the protection of Constantinople and the recovery of Anatolia. The Byzantines were more realistic about their Muslim neighbours than the distant popes and princes of the West. Jerusalem had finally been taken by the Seljuqs in 1071, but the most immediate threat to Byzantium came from the Pechenegs and the Normans. Alexius was tactful in his dealings with the pope and ready to discuss the differences between the churches. But neither party foresaw the consequences of Pope Urban II's appeal in 1095 for recruits to fight a Holy War. The response in western Europe was overwhelming. The motives of those who took the cross as crusaders ranged from religious enthusiasm to a mere spirit of adventure or a hope of gain; and it was no comfort to Alexius to learn that four of the eight leaders of the First Crusade were Normans, among them Bohemond, the son of Robert Guiscard. Since the crusade had to pass through Constantinople, however, the Emperor had some control over it. He required its leaders to swear to restore to the empire any towns or territories they might conquer from the Turks on their way to the Holy Land. In return, he gave them guides and a military escort. Still, the cost was enormous, for the crusaders had to be supplied with food or live off the land as they went.
Nicaea fell to them in 1097 and was duly handed over to the Emperor in accord with the agreement. In 1098 they reached, and captured, Antioch. There the trouble started. Bohemond refused to turn over the city and instead set up his own principality of Antioch. His example was imitated in the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1100), which had fallen to the crusaders the year before, and of the counties of Edessa and Tripoli. The crusaders settled down to colonize and defend the coast of Palestine and Syria and to quarrel among themselves. While they did so, Alexius was able to establish a new and more secure boundary between Byzantium and Islam through the middle of Anatolia. Full advantage was taken of the prevailing rivalry between the Seljuq sultans at Konya and the rival dynasty of the Danishmend emirs at Melitene (near modern Malatya, Tur.); and a limit was set to the westward expansion of the Turks.
The First Crusade thus brought some benefits to Byzantium. But nothing could reconcile the emperor to Bohemond of Antioch. In 1107 Bohemond mounted a new invasion of the empire from Italy. Alexius was ready and defeated him at Dyrrhachium in 1108. Byzantine prestige was higher than it had been for many years, but the empire could barely afford to sustain the part of a great power. Alexius reconstituted the army and re-created the fleet, but only by means of stabilizing the gold coinage at one-third of its original value and by imposing a number of supplementary taxes. It became normal practice for taxes to be farmed out, which meant that the collectors recouped their outlay on their own terms. People in the provinces had the added burden of providing materials and labour for defense, communications, and provisions for the army, which now included very large numbers of foreigners. The supply of native soldiers had virtually ceased with the disappearance or absorption of their military holdings. Alexius promoted an alternative source of native manpower by extending the system of granting estates in pronoia (by favour of the emperor) and tying the grant to the military obligation. The recipient of a pronoia was entitled to all the revenues of his estate and to the taxes payable by his tenants (paroikoi), on condition of equipping himself as a mounted cavalryman with a varying number of troops. He was in absolute possession of his property until it reverted to the crown upon his death. Similarly, Alexius tried to promote more profitable development of the estates of the church by granting them to the management of laymen as charistikia or benefices. As an expedient, the pronoia system had advantages both for the state and for the military aristocracy who were its main beneficiaries. But in the long term it hastened the fragmentation of the empire among the landed families and the breakdown of centralized government that the 10th-century emperors had laboured to avert.
The policies of Alexius I were continued by his son John II Comnenus (reigned 1118-43) and his grandson Manuel I Comnenus (reigned 1143-80). In the 12th century there was a growing involvement of the Western powers in the affairs of the East, as well as an increasingly complex political situation in Europe. In Asia, too, matters were complicated by the conflict between the Seljuqs and the Danishmends, by the emergence of the kingdom of Lesser Armenia in Cilicia, and by the activities of the crusader states. Foreign relations and skillful diplomacy became of paramount importance for the Byzantines. John II tried and failed to break what was becoming the Venetian monopoly of Byzantine trade, and he sought to come to terms with the new kingdom of Hungary, to whose ruler he was related by marriage. Alexius I had seen the importance of Hungary, lying between the Western and Byzantine empires, a neighbour of the Venetians and the Serbs. More ominous still was the establishment of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II in 1130. But John II astutely allied himself with the Western emperor against it.
Manuel I realized even more clearly that Byzantium could not presume to ignore or offend the new powers in the West, and he went out of his way to understand and to appease them. Certain aspects of the Western way of life appealed to Manuel. His first and second wives were both Westerners, and Latins were welcomed at his court and even granted estates and official appointments. This policy was distasteful to most of his subjects; and it was unfortunate for his intentions that the Second Crusade occurred early in his reign (1147), for it aggravated the bitterness between Greeks and Latins and brought Byzantium deeper than ever into the tangled politics of western Europe. Its leaders were Louis VII of France and the emperor Conrad III, and its failure was blamed on Byzantine treachery. The French king discussed with Roger of Sicily the prospect of attacking Constantinople, and in 1147 Roger invaded Greece. But Manuel retained the personal friendship and the alliance of Conrad III against the Normans and even planned a joint Byzantine-German campaign against them in Italy.
No such cooperation was possible with Conrad's successor, Frederick I Barbarossa, after 1152. To Frederick, the alliance between the Holy Roman Empire and what he called "the kingdom of the Greeks" was not one between equals. Manuel launched a vain invasion of the Norman kingdom on his own account in 1154, but it was too late for a revival of Byzantine imperialism in the West. It was hard for the Byzantines to accept the fact that their empire might soon become simply one among a number of Christian principalities.
In the Balkans and in the Latin East Manuel was more successful. His armies won back much of the northwest Balkans and almost conquered Hungary, reducing it to a client kingdom of Byzantium. The Serbs, too, under their leader Stephen Nemanja, were kept under control, while Manuel's dramatic recovery of Antioch in 1159 caused the crusaders to treat the Emperor with a new respect. But in Anatolia he overreached himself. To forestall the formation of a single Turkish sultanate, Manuel invaded the Seljuq territory of Rum in 1176. His army was surrounded and annihilated at Myriocephalon. The battle marked the end of the Byzantine counteroffensive against the Turks begun by Alexius I. Its outcome delighted the Western emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa, who had supported the Seljuq sultan of Rum against Manuel and who now openly threatened to take over the Byzantine Empire by force.
Manuel's personal relationships with the crusaders and with other Westerners remained cordial to the end. But his policies had antagonized the Holy Roman Empire, the papacy, the Normans, and, not least, the Venetians. His effort to revive Byzantine prestige in Italy and the Balkans, and his treaties with Genoa (1169) and Pisa (1170), roused the suspicions of Venice; and in 1171, following an anti-Latin demonstration in Constantinople, all Venetians in the empire were arrested and their property was confiscated. The Venetians did not forget this episode. They, too, began to think in terms of putting Constantinople under Western control as the only means of securing their interest in Byzantine trade.
Manuel's policies antagonized many of his own people as well. His favouritism to the Latins was unpopular, as was his lavish granting of estates in pronoia. A reaction set in shortly after his death in 1180, originated by his cousin Andronicus I Comnenus, who ascended to the throne after another anti-Latin riot in Constantinople. Andronicus murdered Manuel's widow and son Alexius II. He posed as the champion of Byzantine patriotism and of the oppressed peasantry. But to enforce his reforms he behaved like a tyrant. By undermining the power of the aristocracy he weakened the empire's defenses and undid much of Manuel's work. The King of Hungary broke his treaty, and Stephen Nemanja of Serbia declared his independence from Byzantium and founded a new Serbian kingdom. Within the empire, too, disintegration proceeded. In 1185 Isaac Comnenus, governor of Cyprus, set himself up as independent ruler of the island. In the same year the Normans again invaded Greece and captured Thessalonica. The news prompted a counterrevolution in Constantinople, and Andronicus was murdered.
He was the last of the Comnenian family to wear the crown. His successor, Isaac II Angelus, was brought to power by the aristocracy. His reign, and, still more, that of his brother Alexius III, saw the collapse of what remained of the centralized machinery of Byzantine government and defense. Isaac tried at least to keep his foreign enemies in check. The Normans were driven out of Greece in 1185. But in 1186 the Bulgars began a rebellion that was to lead to the formation of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Matters were not made easier by the arrival of the Third Crusade, provoked by the loss of Jerusalem to the Muslim leader Saladin in 1187. One of its leaders was Frederick I Barbarossa, whose avowed intention was to conquer Constantinople. He died on his way to Syria. But Richard I the Lion-Heart of England appropriated Cyprus from Isaac Comnenus, and the island never again reverted to Byzantine rule.
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