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Byzantine Empire

Byzantine Empire

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Byzantine Empire.—The ancient Roman Empire having been divided into two parts, an Eastern and a Western, the Eastern remained subject to successors of Constantine, whose capital was at Byzantium or Constantinople. The term Byzantine is therefore, employed to designate this Eastern survival of the ancient Roman Empire. The subject will be here treated under the following divisions: I. Byzantine Civilization; II. Dynastic History. The latter division of the article will be subdivided into six heads in chronological order.

I. BYZANTINE CIVILIZATION.—At the distance of many centuries and thousands of miles, the civilization of the Byzantine Empire presents an appearance of unity. Examined at closer range, however, firstly the geographical content of the empire resolves itself into various local and national divisions, and secondly the growth of the people in civilization reveals several clearly distinguishable periods. Taking root on Eastern soil, flanked on all sides by the most widely dissimilar peoples—Orientals, Finnic-Ugrians, and Slavs—some of them dangerous neighbors just beyond the border, others settled on Byzantine territory, the empire was loosely connected on the west with the other half of the old Roman Empire. And so the development of Byzantine civilization resulted from three influences: the first Alexandrian-Hellenic, a native product; the second Roman; the third Oriental. The first period of the empire, which embraces the dynasties of Theodosius, Leo I, Justinian, and Tiberius, is politically still under Roman influence. In the second period the dynasty of Heraclius, in conflict with Islam, succeeds in creating a distinctively Byzantine State. The third period, that of the Syrian (Isaurian) emperors and of Iconoclasm, is marked by the attempt to avoid the struggle with Islam by completely orientalizing the land. The fourth period exhibits a happy equilibrium. The Armenian dynasty, which was Macedonian by origin, was able to extend its sway east and west, and there were indications that the zenith of Byzantine power was close at hand. In the fifth period the centrifugal forces, which had long been at work, produced their inevitable effect; the aristocracy of birth, which had been forming in all parts of the empire, and gaining political influence, at last achieved its firm establishment on the throne with the dynasties of the Comneni and Angeli. The sixth period is that of decline; the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders had disrupted the empire into several new political units; even after the restoration, the empire of the Palaeologi is only one member of this group of states. The expansion of the power of the Osmanli Turks prepares the annihilation of the Byzantine Empire.

Geographically and ethnographically, the Roman Empire was never a unit. In the western section, comprising Italy and the adjacent islands, Spain, and Africa, the Latin language and Latin culture were predominant. Of these territories, only Africa, Sicily, and certain parts of Italy were ever under Byzantine control for any length of time. To the southeast, the Coptic and Syriac, and, if the name is permitted, the Palestinian nation assumed growing importance and finally, under the leadership of the Arabs, broke the bonds that held it to the empire. In the East proper (Asia Minor and Armenia) lay the heart of the empire. In the southeast of Asia Minor and on the southern spurs of the Armenian mountains the population was Syrian. The Armenian settlements extended from their native mountains far into Asia Minor, and even into Europe. Armenian colonies are found on Mount Ida in Asia Minor, in Thrace, and Macedonia. The coast lands of Asia Minor are thoroughly Greek. The European part of the empire was the scene of an ethnographic evolution. From ancient times the mountains of Epirus and Illyria had been inhabited by Albanians; from the beginning of the fifteenth century they spread over what is now Greece, down towards southern Italy and Sicily. Since the days of the Roman power, the Rumanians, or Wallachians, had established themselves on both sides as well of the Balkan as of the Pindus mountains. This people was divided into two parts by the invasion of the Finnic-Ugrian Bulgars, and the expansion of the Slavs. They lived as wandering shepherds, in summer on the mountains, in winter on the plains. In the fifth century the Slavs began to spread over the Balkan Peninsula. At the beginning of the eighth century Cynuria, in the eastern part of the Peloponnesus, was called a “Slavic land”. A reaction, however, which set in towards the end of the eighth century, resulted in the total extermination of the Slavs in southern Thessaly and central Greece, and left but few in the Peloponnesus. On the other hand, the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula remained on to Slavic inroads. Here the Bulgars gradually became incorporated with the Slavs, and spread from Hsemus far to the west, and into southern Macedonia. The valleys of the Vardar and the Morava offered the Serbs tempting means of access to the Byzantine Empire. After the Greeks and Armenians, the Slavs have exercised most influence on the inner configuration of the empire. The Greeks of the islands best preserved their national characteristics. Moreover, they settled in compact groups in the capital of the empire, and on all the coast lands even to those of the Black Sea. They gained ground by hellenizing the Slavs, and by emigrating to Sicily and lower Italy.

In point of civilization, the Greeks were the predominant race in the empire. From the second half of the sixth century, Latin had ceased to be the language of the Government. The legislation eventually became thoroughly Greek, both in language and spirit. Beside the Greeks, only the Armenians had developed a civilization of their own. The Slavs, it is true, had acquired a significant influence over the internal and external affairs of the empire, but had not established a Slavic civilization on Byzantine soil, and the dream of a Roman Empire under Slavic rule remained a mere fantasy.

In the breaking of the empire on ethnographic lines of cleavage, it was an important fact that at least the Greeks were more solidly united than in former centuries. The dialects of ancient Greece had for the most part disappeared, and the Koine of the Hellenic period formed a point of departure for new dialects, as well as the basis of a literary language which was preserved with incredible tenacity and gained the ascendancy in literature as well as in official usage. Another movement, in the sixth century, was directed towards a general and literary revival of the language, and, this having gradually spent itself without any lasting results, the dialects, unfortunately, became the occasion of a further split in the nation. As the later literary language, with its classic tendencies, was stiff and unwieldy, as well as unsuited to meet all the exigencies of a colloquial language, it perforce helped to widen the breach between the literary and the humbler classes, the latter having already begun to use the new dialects. The social schism which had rent the nation, since the establishment of a distinctively Byzantine landed interest and the rise of a provincial nobility, was aggravated by the prevalence of the literary language among the governing classes, civil and ecclesiastical. Even the western invasion could not close this breach; on the contrary, while it confirmed the influence of the popular tongue as such, it left the social structure of the nation untouched. The linguistic division of the Greek nation thus begun has persisted down to the present time.

The Middle Ages never created a great centralized economic system. The lack of a highly organized apparatus of transportation for goods in large quantities made each district a separate economic unit. This difficulty was not overcome even by a coastline naturally favorable for navigation, since the carrying capacity of medieval vessels was too small to make them important factors in the problem of freight-transportation as we now apprehend it. Even less effectual were the means of conveyance employed on the roads of the empire. These roads, it is true, were a splendid legacy from the old Roman Empire, and were not yet in the dilapidated state to which they were later reduced under the Turkish domination. Even today, for example, there are remains of the Via Egnatia, connecting Constantinople with the Adriatic Sea through Thessalonica, and of the great military roads through Asia Minor, from Chalcedon, past Nicomedia, Ancyra, and Caesarea, to Armenia, as well as of that from Nica through Dorylaeum and Iconium, to Tarsus and Antioch. These roads were of supreme importance for the transportation of troops and the conveyance of dispatches; but for the interchange of goods of any bulk, they were out of the question. The inland commerce of Byzantium, like most medieval commerce, was confined generally to such commodities, of not excessive weight, as could be packed into a small space, and would represent great values, both intrinsically and on account of their importation from a distance—such as gems, jewelry, rich textiles and furs, aromatic spices, and drugs. But food-stuffs, such as cereals, fresh vegetables, wine, oil, dried meat, as well as dried fish and fruits, could be conveyed any distance only by water. Indeed, a grave problem presented itself in the provisioning of the capital, the population of which approached, probably, that of a great modern city. It is now known that Alexandria at first supplied Constantinople with grain, under State supervision. After the loss of Egypt, Thrace and the lands of Pontus were drawn upon for supplies. Of the establishment of an economic center, however, for all parts of the empire, of a centralized system of trade routes radiating from Constantinople, there was no conception. Moreover, Byzantine commerce, strange to say, shows a marked tendency to develop in a sense opposite to this ideal. At first there was great commercial activity; the Byzantines offered to India, Persia, and Central and Eastern Asia a channel of communication with the West. Various districts of the empire strove to promote the export of industrial articles, Syria and Egypt, in particular, upholding their ancient positions as industrial sections of importance, their activity expressing itself chiefly in weaving and dyeing and the manufacture of metals and glass. The Slavonic invasion, moreover, had not entirely extinguished the industrial talents of the Greeks. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, weaving, embroidery, and the fabrication of carpets were of considerable importance at Thebes and Patrae. In the capital itself, with government aid in the form of a monopoly, a new industrial enterprise was organized which confined itself chiefly to shipbuilding and the manufacture of arms in the imperial arsenals, but also took up the preparation of silk fabrics. The Byzantines themselves, in the earlier periods, carried these wares to the West. There they enjoyed a commercial supremacy for which their only rivals were the Arabs and which is most clearly evidenced by the universal currency of the Byzantine gold solidus. Gradually, however, a change came about: the empire lost its maritime character and at last became almost exclusively territorial, as appears in the decline of the imperial navy. At the time of the Arabian conflicts it was the navy that did the best work; at a later period, however, it was counted inferior to the land forces. Similarly there was a transformation in the mental attitude and the occupations of the people. The Greek merchant allowed himself to be crowded out in his own country by his Italian rival. The population even of an island so well adapted for maritime pursuits as Crete seemed, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, veritably afraid of the water. What wrought this change is still an unsolved problem. Here too, possibly, the provincial aristocracy showed its effects, through the extension of its power over the inhabitants of the country districts and its increasing influence on the imperial Government.

The decline of the Byzantine Empire is strikingly exhibited in the depreciation of currency during the reigns of the Comneni. At that period the gold solidus lost its high currency value and its commercial preeminence. It is noteworthy that at the same time we perceive the beginnings of large finance (Geldwirtschaft). For at an earlier period the Byzantine Empire, like the states of Western Europe, appears to have followed the system of barter, or exchange of commodities in kind. Nevertheless, as ground-rents were already paid in money during the Comneni period, some uncertainty remains as to whether the beginnings of finance, and of capital as a distinct power in the civilized world, should be sought in Byzantium or rather in the highly developed fiscal system of the Roman Curia and the mercantile activity of Italian seaports.

It will be seen from all this that the development of the Byzantine Empire was by no means uniform, in point either of time or of place. Why is it then that the word Byzantine conveys a definite and self-consistent idea? Was there not something which through all those centuries remained characteristic of Byzantines in contrast with the neighboring peoples? To this it must be replied that such was certainly the case, and that the difference lay, first of all, in the more advanced civilization of Byzantium. Many small but significant details are recorded—as early as the sixth century Constantinople had a system of street-lighting; sports, equestrian games or polo-playing, and above all races in the circus attained a high national and political importance; Byzantine princesses married to Venetians introduced the use of table forks in the West. More striking are the facts that as early as the eighth and ninth centuries, the Byzantines, in their wars with the Arabs, used gunpowder—the so-called Greek fire—and that a German emperor like Otto III preferred to be a Roman of Byzantium rather than a German. This Byzantine civilization, it is true, suffered from a serious and incurable disease, a worm gnawing at its core: the utter absence of originality. But here, again, we should beware of unwarranted generalization. A change in this respect is to be noted from age to age; in the first centuries, before the complete severing of the political and ecclesiastical ties uniting them with the Eastern nations, the Greek mind still retained its gift of receptivity, and ancient Greek art traditions, in combination with Persian; Syrian, and other Oriental motives, produced the original plan of the true Byzantine church, a type which left its impression on architecture, sculpture, painting, and the minor arts. And yet, so complete was the isolation of the empire, separated from other nations by the character of its government, the strictness of its court etiquette, the refinement of its material civilization, and, not least, by the peculiar development of the national Church, that a kind of numbness crept over both the language and the intellectual life of the people. The nations of the West were indeed barbarians in comparison with the cultured Byzantines, but the West had something for the lack of which no learning, no technical skill could compensate—the creative force of an imagination in harmony with the laws of nature.

As to the share which, Byzantine ecclesiastical development had in this isolation, it must be conceded that the constitution of the Eastern Church was rather imperial than universal. Its administration was seriously influenced by the politics of the empire; the boundaries of the empire bounded the Church‘s aspirations and activities. In the West, the obliteration of those boundaries by the Germanic peoples and the outburst of vigorous missionary activity on all sides furthered very notably the idea of a universal Church, embracing all nations, and unfettered by political or territorial limits. In the East the development was quite different. Here, indeed, missionary work met with considerable success. From the Syrian and Egyptian Church sprang the Ethiopian, the Indian, the Mesopotamian, and the Armenian Churches. Constantinople sent apostles to the Slavonic and Finnic-Ugrian races. Still, these Oriental Churches show, from the very beginning, a peculiar national structure. Whether this was a legacy from the ancient Eastern religions, or whether it was the reaction against Greek civilization which had been imposed upon the people of the Orient from the time of Alexander the Great, the adoption of Christianity went hand in hand with nationalism. Opposed to this nationalism in many important respects was the Greek imperial Church. Precisely because it was only an imperial Church, it had not yet grasped the concept of a universal Church. As the imperial Church, constituting a department of the state-administration, its opposition to the national Churches among the Oriental peoples was always very emphatic. Thus it is that the dogmatic disputes of these Churches are, above all, expressions of politico-national struggles. In the course of these contests Egypt, and Syria, and finally Armenia also were lost to the Greek Church. The Byzantine imperial Church at last found itself almost exclusively confined to the Greek nation and its subjects. In the end it became, in its own turn, a national Church, and definitively severed all bonds of rite and dogma linking it with the West. The schism between the Eastern and Western Churches thus reveals a fundamental opposition of viewpoints: the mutually antagonistic ideas of the universal Church and of independent national Churches—an antagonism which both caused the schism and constitutes the insurmountable impediment to reunion.

II. DYNASTIC HISTORY.—(I) Roman Period; (a) Dynasties of Theodosius I and Leo I; A.D. 395-518.

Bauto, a Frank Theodosius I

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Eudoxia—Arcadius Honorius

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Marcianus—Pulcheria Theodosius II—Eudocia-Athenais

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Leo I ———————Verina Basiliscus


Zeno ———Ariadne ———————Anastasius


Leo II

A glance at the above genealogies shows that the law governing the succession in the Roman Empire persisted in the Byzantine. On one hand, a certain law of descent is observed: the fact of belonging to the reigning house, whether by birth or marriage gives a strong claim to the throne. On the other hand, the people is not entirely excluded as a political factor. The popular cooperation in the government was not regulated by set forms. The high civil and military officials took part in the enthronement of a new monarch, often by means of a palace or military revolution. Legally, the people participated in the government only through the Church. From the time of Marcianus, the Byzantine emperors were crowned by the Patriarchs of Constantinople.

Of the emperors of this period, Arcadius (395-408) and Theodosius II (408-50) received the throne by right of inheritance. The old senator Marcianus (450-57) came to the throne through his marriage with the sister of Theodosius II, Pulcheria, who for years previously had been an inmate of a convent. The Thracian Leo I, the Great (457-74), owed his power to Aspar the Alan, Magister Militum per Orientern, who, as an Arian, was debarred from the imperial dignity, and who therefore installed the orthodox Leo. Leo, it is true, soon became refractory, and in 471 Aspar was executed by imperial command. On Leo’s death the throne was transmitted through his daughter Ariadne, who had been united in marriage to the leader of the Isaurian body guard, and had a son by him, Leo II. The sudden death of Leo, however, after he had raised his father to the rank of coregent, placed the reins of power in the hands of Zeno (474-91), who was obliged to defend his authority against repeated insurrections. All these movements were instigated by his mother-in-law, Verina, who first proclaimed her brother Basiliscus emperor, and later Leontius, the leader of the Thracian army. Victory, however, rested with Zeno, at whose death Ariadne once more decided the succession by bestowing her hand on Anastasius Silentiarius (491-518), who had risen through the grades of the civil service.

This brief resume shows the important part played by women in the imperial history of Byzantium. Nor was female influence restricted to the imperial family. The development of Roman law exhibits a growing realization of woman’s importance in the family and society. Theodora, whose greatness is not eclipsed by that of her celebrated consort, Justinian, is a typical example of the solicitude of a woman of high station for the interests of the lowliest and the most unworthy of her sisters—from whose ranks perhaps she herself had risen. Byzantine civilization produced a succession of typical women of middle class who are a proof, first, of the high esteem in which women were held in social life and, secondly, of the sacredness of family life, which even now distinguishes the Greek people. To this same tendency is probably to be ascribed the suppression by Anastasius of the bloody exhibitions of the circus called venationes. We must not forget, however, that under the successor of, Anastasius, Justin, the so-called circus factions kept bears for spectacles in the circus, and the Empress Theodora was the daughter of a bear-baiter. Still the fact remains that cultured circles at that time began to deplore this gruesome amusement, and that the venationes, and with them the political significance of the circus, disappeared in the course of Byzantine history.

One may be amazed at the assertion that the Byzantine was humane, and refined in feeling, even to the point of sensitiveness. Too many bloody crimes stain the pages of Byzantine history—not as extraordinary occurrences, but as regularly established institutions. Blinding, mutilation, and death by torture had their place in the Byzantine penal system. In the Middle Ages such horrors were not, it is true, unknown in Western Europe, and yet the fierce crusaders thought the Byzantines exquisitely cruel. In reading the history of this people, one has to accustom oneself to a Janus-like national character—genuine Christian self-sacrifice, unworldliness, and spirituality, side by side with avarice, cunning, and the refinement of cruelty. It is, indeed, easy to detect this idiosyncrasy in both the ancient and the modern Greeks. Greek cruelty, however, may have been aggravated by the circumstances that savage races not only remained as foes on the frontier, but often became incorporated in the body politic, only veiling their barbane mien under a thin cloak of Hellenism. The whole of Byzantine history is the record of struggles between a civilized state and wild, or half-civilized, neighboring tribes. Again and again was the Byzantine Empire de facto reduced to the limits of the capital city, which Anastasius had transformed into an unrivalled fortress; and often, too, was the victory over its foes gained by troops before whose ferocity its own citizens trembled.

Twice in the period just considered Byzantium was on the point of falling into the hands of the Goths: first, when, under the Emperor Arcadius, shortly after Marie the Visigoth had pillaged Greece, the German Gainas, being in control of Constantinople, simultaneously stirred up the East Goths and the Gruthungi, who had settled in Phrygia; a second time, when the East Goths, before their withdrawal to Italy, threatened Constantinople. These deliverances may not have been entirely fortunate. There are differences in natural endowments among races; the history of the Goths in Spain, Southern France, and Italy shows that they should not be classed with the savage Huns and Isaurians, and a strong admixture of Germanic blood would perhaps have so benefited the Greek nation as to have averted its moral and political paralysis. But this was not to be expected of the Hunnic and Isaurian races, the latter including, probably, tribes of Kurds in the Taurus ranges in the southeast of Asia Minor. It can only be considered fortunate that success so long crowned the efforts to ward off the Huns, who, from 412 to 451, when their power was broken at Chalons, had been a serious menace to the imperial frontiers. More dangerous still were the Isaurians, inhabitants of imperial territory, and the principal source from which the guards of the capital were recruited. The Emperor Zeno was an Isaurian, as was likewise his adversary, Illus; Magister Offticiorum, who, in league with Verina, mother of the empress, plotted his downfall; and while these intrigues were in progress the citizens of Constantinople were already taking sides against the Isaurian bodyguard, having recourse even to a general massacre to free themselves from their hated oppressors. But it was the Emperor Anastasius who first succeeded in removing these praetorians from the capital, and in subjugating the inhabitants of the Isaurian mountains (493) after a six years’ war.

The same period is marked by the beginning of the Slavic and Bulgar migrations. The fact has already been mentioned that these races gradually possessed themselves of the whole Balkan Peninsula, the Slavs meanwhile absorbing the Finnic-Ugrian Bulgars. The admixture of Greek blood, which was denied the Germanic races, was reserved for the Slavs. To how great a degree this mingling of races took place, will never be exactly ascertained. On the other hand, the extent of Slavic influence on the interior developments of the Byzantine Empire, especially on that of the landed interests, is one of the great unsolved questions of Byzantine history.

In all these struggles, the Byzantine polity shows itself the genuine heir of the ancient Roman Empire. The same is true of the contest over the eastern boundary, the centuries of strife with the Persians. In this contest the Byzantine Greeks now found allies. The Persians, had never given up their native fire-worship, Mazdeism. Whenever a border nation was converted to Christianity, it joined the Byzantine alliance. The Persians, realizing this, sought to neutralize the Greek influence by favoring the various sects in turn. To this motive is to be attributed the favor they showed to the Nestorians, who at last became the recognized representatives of Christianity in the Persian Empire. To meet this policy of their adversaries, the Greeks for a long time favored the Syrian Monophysites, bitter enemies of the Nestorians. Upon this motive the Emperor Zeno closed the Nestorian school at Edessa, in 489, and it was a part of the same policy that induced the successors of Constantine the Great to support the leaders of the Christian clerical party, the Mamikomans, in opposition to the Mazdeistic nobility. Theodosius II resumed this policy after his grandfather, Theodosius the Great, had, by a treaty with Persia (387), sacrificed the greater part of Armenia: Only Karin in the valley of the Western Euphrates, thence forth called Theodosiopolis, then remained a Roman possession. Theodosius II initiated a different policy. He encouraged, as far as lay in his power, the diffusion of Christianity in Armenia, invited Mesrob and Sahak, the founders of Armenian Christian literature into Roman territory, and gave them pecuniary assistance for the prosecution of the work they had undertaken, of translating Holy Scripture into Armenian. Anastasius followed the same shrewd policy. On the one hand, he carried on a relentless war with the Persians (502-06) and, on the other hand, lost no opportunity of encouraging the Monophysite sect which was then predominant in Egypt, Syria, and Armenia. It is true that he met with great difficulties from the irreconcilable factions as had those of his predecessors who had followed the policy of religious indifference in dealing with the sects. The Eastern Churches in these centuries were torn by theological controversies so fierce as to have been with good reason compared with the sixteenth-century disputes of Western Christendom. All the warring elements of the period—national, local, economic, social, even personal—group themselves around the prevalent theological questions, so that it is practically impossible to say, in any given case, whether the dominant motives of the parties to the quarrel were spiritual or temporal. In all this hurly-burly of beliefs and parties three historical points have to be kept clearly before the mind, in order to understand the further development of the empire: first, the decline of Alexandrian power; secondly, the determination of the mutual relations of Rome and Constantinople; thirdly, the triumph of the civil over the ecclesiastical authority.

Theodosius I was called the Great because he was the first emperor to act against heathenism, and also because he contributed to the victory of the followers of Athanasius over the Arians. This victory redounded to the advantage of the Patriarch of Alexandria. Strange as it seems at the present day, everything pointed to the supremacy of the orthodox Patriarch of Egypt, whose proud title (Papa et patriarcha Alexandrine, etc.) is now the only reminder that its bearer was once in a fair way to become the spiritual rival of Constantinople. Such, however, was the case, and the common object of preventing this formed a bond between Rome and Constantinople. It was some time, it is true, before the two powers recognized this community of interests. St. John Chrysostom, as Patriarch of Constantinople, had already felt the superior power of his Alexandrian colleague. At the Synod of the Oak, held on the Asiatic shore opposite the capital, Chrysostom was deposed—through the collusion of the palace with the intrigues of Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria although the people soon compelled his recall to the patriarchal see, and it was only as the result of fresh complications that he was permanently removed (404). Nestorius, one of his successors, fared even worse. At that time Alexandria was ruled by Cyril, nephew of Theophilus, and the equal of his uncle and predecessor both in intellectual and in political talents. Nestorius had declared himself against the new and, as he asserted, idolatrous, expression “Mother of God” (Theotokos), thereby opposing the sentiments and wishes of the humbler people. Cyril determined to use this opportunity to promote the further exaltation of Alexandria at the expense of Constantinople. At the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431), Cyril received the hearty support of Pope Celestine’s representatives. Moreover, the Syrians, who were opponents of Alexandria, did not champion Nestorius energetically. The Patriarch of Constantinople proved the weaker, and ended his life in exile. It now seemed as though Alexandria had gained her object. At the Second Council of Ephesus (the “Robber Council” of 449) Dioscorus, Patriarch of Alexandria, had already been hailed by a bishop of Asia Minor as “Oecumenical Archbishop“, when the energetic policy of Pope Leo I, the Great, and the death of the Emperor Theodosius II brought about a change in the trend of affairs. Martian, the new emperor, came to an understanding with Leo; a reconciliation had already been effected with Rome through the drawing up, of a confession of faith, which was presented to the Synod of Chalcedon, the great Fourth Ecumenical Council (451). Viewed from the standpoint of Old Rome the result was most successful; Dioscorus of Alexandria was deposed and exiled, and the danger of an all-powerful Alexandrian patriarch was averted. The Patriarch of New RomeConstantinople—could also be satisfied. The solution of the question was less advantageous to the Byzantine Empire. When the Greeks entered into communion with the Western Church, the reaction of the Egyptians, Syrians, and other Oriental peoples was all the more pronounced. “Anti-Chalcedonians” was the term appropriated by everyone in Asia who took sides against the Greek imperial Church, and the outcome of the whole affair demonstrated once more the impossibility of a compromise between the ideal of a universal, and that of a national Church.

The second point, the rivalry between Constantinople and Rome, can be discussed more briefly. Naturally, Rome had the advantage in every respect. But for the division of the empire the whole question would never have arisen. But Theodosius I, as early as the Second Oecumenical Council of Constantinople (381), had the decision made that New Rome should take precedence immediately after old Rome. This was the first expression of the theory that Constantinople should be supreme among the Churches of the East. The first to attempt to translate this thought into action was John Chrysostom. As he undertook the campaign against Alexandria, so he was also able to bring the still independent Church of Asia Minor under the authority of Constantinople. On a missionary journey he made the See of Ephesus, founded by St. John the Apostle a suffragan of his patriarchate. We can now understand why the war against the Alexandrians was prosecuted with such bitterness. The defeat of Alexandria at the Council of Chalcedon established the supremacy of Constantinople. To be sure, this supremacy was only theoretical, as it is a matter of history that from this time forward the Oriental Churches assumed a hostile attitude towards the Byzantine imperial Church. As for Rome, protests had already been made at Chalcedon against the twenty-first canon of the Eighth General Council, which set forth the spiritual precedence of Constantinople. This protest was maintained until the capture of Constantinople by the crusaders put an end to the pretentions of the Greek Church. Pope Innocent III (1215) confirmed the grant to the Patriarch of Constantinople of the place of honor after Rome.

We now come to the third point: the contest between ecclesiastical and civil authority. In this particular, also, the defeat of Alexandria was signal. Since the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon it had been decided that in the East (it was otherwise in the West) the old Roman custom, by which the emperor had the final decision in ecclesiastical matters, should continue. That was the end of the matter at Byzantium, and we need not be surprised to find that before long dogmatic disputes were decided by arbitrary imperial decrees, that laymen, princes, and men who had held high state offices were promoted to ecclesiastical offices, and that spiritual affairs were treated as a department of the Government. But it must not be supposed that the Byzantine Church was therefore silenced. The popular will found a means of asserting itself most emphatically, concurrently with the official administration of ecclesiastical affairs. The monks in particular showed the greatest fearlessness in opposing their ecclesiastical superiors as well as the civil authority.

(I) (b) Dynasties of Justinian and Tiberius; 518-610.

Justin I ————? ?————?

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? —- ? Justinian I ———Theodora ?—- ?

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Justin II —————————————Sophia


co-Emperor: Tiberius II ——?


Maritius ———Constantina

The above table once more contains the names of two renowned and influential Byzantine empresses. As the world once held its breath at the quarrel between Eudoxia, the wanton wife of the Emperor Arcadius, and the great patriarch, John Chrysostom and at the rivalry of the sisters-in-law, Pulcheria and Athenais-Eudocia, the latter the daughter of an Athenian philosopher, so Theodora, the dancer of the Byzantine circus, and her niece Sophia succeeded in obtaining extraordinary influence by reason of their genius, wit, and political cleverness. Theodora died of cancer (548), seventeen years before her husband. No serious discord ever marred this singular union, from which, however, there was no issue. The death of this remarkable woman proved an irreparable loss to her consort, who grieved profoundly for her during the remainder of his life. Her niece, Sophia, who approached her in ambition and political cunning, though not in intellect, had a less fortunate ending. Her life was darkened by a bitter disappointment. With the help of Tiberius, commander of the palace guard, a Thracian famed for his personal attractions, she placed on the throne her husband, Justin II, (565-78), who suffered from temporary attacks of insanity. Soon Sophia and Tiberius became the real rulers of the empire. In 574 the empress succeeded in inducing her husband to adopt Tiberius as Caesar and coregent. The death of Justin (578), however, did not bring about the hoped-for consummation of her relations with Tiberius: Tiberius II (578-82) had a wife in his native village, and now for the first time presented her in the capital. After his accession to the throne, he revered the Empress Sophia as a mother, and even when the disappointed woman began to place obstacles in his path, he was forbearing, and treated her with respect while keeping her a prisoner.

The dynasty of Justin originated in Elyria. At the death of the Emperor Anastasius, Justin I (518-27), like his successor Tiberius, commander of the palace guard; by shrewdly availing himself of his opportunities succeeded in seizing the reins of power. Even during the reign of Justin, Justinian, his nephew, and heir-presumptive to the throne, played an important role in affairs. He was by nature peculiar and slow. Unlike his uncle, he had received an excellent education. He might justly be called a scholar; at the same time he was a man of boundless activity. As absolute monarch, like Philip II of Spain, he developed an almost incredible capacity for work. He endeavored to master all the departments of civil life, to gather in his hands all the reins of government. The number of rescripts drawn up by Justinian is enormous. They deal with all subjects, though towards the end by preference with dogmatic questions, as the emperor fancied that he could put an end to religious quarrels by means of bureaucratic regulations. He certainly took his vocation seriously. On sleepless nights he was frequently seen pacing his apartments absorbed in thought. His whole concept of life was serious to the point of being pedantic. We might therefore wonder that such a man should choose as his consort a woman of the demi-monde. No doubt Procopius, “a chamberlain removed from the atmosphere of the court, unheeded and venomous in his sullen old age”, is not veracious in all his statements concerning the previous life of Theodora. It is, certain, however, that a daughter was born to her before she became acquainted with the crown prince, and it is equally certain that before she married the pedantic monarch, she had led a dissolute life. However she filled her new role admirably. Her subsequent conduct was faultless, her influence great, but not obtrusive. Her extravagance and vindictiveness—for she had enemies, among them John the Cappadocian, the great financial minister so indispensable to Justinian—may well have cost the emperor many an uneasy hour, but there was never any lasting breach.

Theodora, after captivating the Crown-Prince Justinian by her genius and witty conversation, proved herself worthy of her position at the critical moment. It was in the year 532, five years after Justinian’s accession. Once more the people of Constantinople, through its circus factions, sought to oppose the despotic rule then beginning. It resulted in the frightful uprising which had taken its name from the well-known watchword of the circus parties: Nika— “Conquer”. In the palace everything was given up for lost, and Belisarius himself, the heroic chief of the mercenaries, advised flight. At this crisis Theodora saved the empire for her husband by her words: “The purple is a good winding-sheet”. The Government was firm; the opposing party weakened, the circus factions were shorn of their political influence, and the despotic government of Justinian remained assured for the future.

It is well known what the reign of Justinian (527-65) meant for the external and internal development of the empire. The boundaries of the empire were extended, Africa was reconquered for a century and a half, all Italy for some decades. The Byzantine power was established, for a time, even in some cities of the Spanish coast. Less successful were his Eastern wars. Under Justin and the aged Kavadh, war with Persia had again broken out. On the accession of the great Chosroes I; Nushirvan (531-79), in spite of the peace of 532, which Justinian hoped would secure for him liberty of action in the West, Chosroes allowed him no respite. Syria suffered terribly from pillaging incursions, Lazistan (the ancient Colchis) was taken by the Persians, and a road thereby opened to the Black Sea. Only after the Greeks resumed the war more vigorously (549) did they succeed in recapturing Lazistan, and in 562 peace was concluded.

Nevertheless the Persian War was transmitted as an unwelcome legacy to the successors of Justinian. In 571 strife broke out anew in Christian Armenia, owing to the activity of the Mazdeistic Persians. While the Romans gained many brilliant victories, their opponents also obtained a few important successes. Suddenly affairs took an unexpected turn. Hormizdas, the son and successor of Chosroes I (579-90), lost both life and crown in an uprising. His son, Chosroes II, Parvez (590-628), took refuge with the Romans. Mauritius, who was then emperor (582-602), received the fugitive and by the campaign of 591 reestablished him on the throne of his fathers. Thus the relations of the empire with the Persians seemed at last peaceful. Soon, however, Mauritius himself was deposed and murdered on the occasion of a military sedition. The centurion Phocas (602-10) seized the helm of the Byzantine state. Chosroes, ostensibly to avenge his friend, the murdered emperor, forthwith resumed the offensive. The administration of Phocas proved thoroughly inefficient. The empire seemed to swerve out of its old grooves; the energetic action of some patriots, however; under the leadership of nobles high in the Government, and the call of Heraclius, saved the situation, and after a fearful conflict with the powers of the East, lasting over a hundred years, Byzantium rose again to renewed splendor:

It is a noteworthy fact that Lombard and Syrian chroniclers call the Emperor Mauritius the first “Greek” emperor. The transformation of the Roman State, with Latin as the official language, into a Greek State had become manifest. During the reign of Mauritius the rest of Justinian’s conquests in Italy and Africa were placed under the civil administration of military governors or exarchs. This is symptomatic. The separation of civil and military power, which had been inaugurated in the happier and more peaceful days at the end of the third century, had outlived its usefulness. During the period of the Arabian conflicts under the Heraclean dynasty, the old Roman system of combining civil and military power was established in a new form. The commander of a themes (regiment) was charged with the supervision of the civil authorities in his military district. The old diocesan and provincial divisions disappeared, and military departments became administrative districts. It is manifest that Justinian’s policy of restoration ended in a miserable failure. The time for a Roman Empire in the old sense of the term, with the old administrative system, was past. It is unfortunate that the rivers of blood which brought destruction upon two Germanic states, the robber Vandals and the noble East Goths, and the enormous financial sacrifice of the eastern half of the empire had no better outcome. If, despite all this, the name of Justinian is inscribed in brilliant letters in the annals of the world’s history, it is owing to other achievements: his codification of the laws and his enterprise as a builder. It was the fortune of this emperor to be contemporary with the artistic movement which rising in Persia, gained the ascendancy in Syria and spread over Asia Minor and thence to Constantinople and the West. It was the merit of Justinian that he furnished the pecuniary means, often enormous, for the realization of these artistic aspirations. His fame will endure so long as Saint Sophia at Constantinople endures, and so long as hundreds of pilgrims annually visit the churches of Ravenna. This is not the place to enumerate the architectural achievements of Justinian, ecclesiastical and secular, bridges, forts, and palaces. Nor shall we dwell upon his measures against the lastvestiges of heathenism, or his suppression of the University of Athens (529). On the other hand, there is one phase of his activity as a ruler to which reference must be made here, and which was the necessary counterpart of his policy of conquest in the West and issued in as great a failure. The Emperors Zeno and Anastasius had sought remedies for the difficulties raised by the Council of Chalcedon. It was Zeno who commissioned Acacius, the great Patriarch of Constantinople—the first, perhaps, who took the title of Oecumenical Patriarch—to draft the formula of union known as the “Henoticon” (482). This formula cleverly evaded the Chalcedon decisions, and made it possible for the Monophysites to return to the imperial Church. But the gain on one side proved a loss on the other. Under existing conditions, it did not matter much that Rome protested, and again and again demanded the erasure of the name of Acacius from the diptychs. It was much more important that the capital and Europe, as well as the chief Greek cities, showed hostility to the Henoticon. The Greeks, moreover, were attached to their national Church, and they regarded the decrees of Chalcedon as an expression of their national creed. The Emperor Anastasius was a Monophysite by conviction, and his religious policy irritated the West. At last, when he installed in the patriarchal See of Constantinople Timotheus, an uncompromising Monophysite, and at the Synod of Tyre had the decrees of Chalcedon condemned, and the Henoticon solemnly confirmed, a tumult arose at the capital, and later in the Danubian provinces, headed by Vitalian, a Mcesian. Anastasius died (518), and, under Justin I, Vitalian, who had received from Anastasius the appointment as magister militum per Thraciam, remained all-powerful. He acted throughout as the enemy of the Monophysites and the champion of Chalcedonian orthodoxy. He urged the union with Rome, which must render the breach with the Eastern Churches final. This union was consummated in 519; the conditions were the removal of the name of Acacius from the diptychs, and the banishment of over fifty bishops of Asia Minor and Syria who were opposed to the Chalcedonian decrees. A year later the government of Justin rid itself of the too powerful Vitalian by having him assassinated. The union with Rome, however, was not disturbed. When, in the year 525, Pope John I appeared in Constantinople on a mission from the Ostrogoth King Theodoric, he celebrated High Mass in Latin and took precedence before the ecumenical patriarch. We know that at the time Justinian was the actual ruler; it may be conjectured what motive inspired him to allow this. His plan for the conquest of the West made it desirable for him to win the papacy over to his side, and consummate the ecclesiastical union with the Latins. These views he held throughout his reign. Theodora, however, thought otherwise. She became the protectress of the Monophysites. Egypt owed to her its years of respite; under her protection Syria ventured to reestablish its Anti-Chalcedonian Church; she encouraged the Monophysite missions in Arabia, Nubia, and Abyssinia. The empress did not even hesitate to receive the heads of the Monophysite opposition party in her palace, and when, in 536, Anthimus, Patriarch of Constantinople, was, at the instance of Pope Agapetus, deposed for his Asiatic propensities, she received the fugitive into the women’s apartments, where he was discovered at the death of the empress (548). He had spent twelve years within the walls of the imperial palace tinder the protection of the Augusta. There are reasons to suspect that Justinian did not altogether disapprove of his consort’s policy. It was but a half-way attempt to win over the Monophysites. Could they, indeed, ever be won over?—The spectacle of this emperor wearing out his life in the vain effort to restore the unity of the empire, in faith, law, and custom, is like the development of a tragedy; his endeavors only tended to widen the breach between those nations which most needed each other’s support—those of the Balkan Peninsula and of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. With all his dogmatic experiments the emperor did not succeed in reconciling the parties or devising a feasible method of bringing the parts of the empire to cooperate with one another. His successors had no better success. Even the conciliatory measures of John the Faster, Patriarch of the capital (582-95), were of no avail. The conquest of the East by the Arabs, in the seventh century, brought a cessation of this movement towards the differentiation of the East into separate nations—a cessation which, to be sure, involved for most of the Syrian and Egyptian Christians the loss of their faith.

(2) Founding of the Real Byzantine State; 610-717.

Eudocia ————Heraclius ————Martina

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Heraclius Constantinus Heracleonas


Constans II (also called Constantine III)


Constantine IV, Pogonatus


Justinian II, Rhinotmetus

Salvation from the Arab peril came through the energetic dynasty of Heraclius. As appears from the above table, the dynasty flourished for five generations. Three of the rulers were characterized by extraordinary will power and striking intellectual ability: Heraclius (610-41), Constans (642-68), and Constantine, called Pogonatis, or the Bearded (668-85). The year 685 marks the beginning of the dynastic decline. Justinian II (685-95, and 705-11) had inherited the excellent qualities of his ancestors, but grotesquely distorted; he had the instincts of a sultan, with a touch of Caesarian madness. Whence it came about that in 695 he was deposed. His nose was cut off—whence the name Rhinotmetus— and he was banished to Cherson. There he formed an alliance with the Khan of the Khazars, whose brother-in-law he became, and fled in a fishing boat over the Black Sea to the mouths of the Danube. The Bulgarians had dwelt in this region since about 679. In 705, aided by an army of Slavs and Bulgarians, Rhinotmetus returned to Constantinople, and the Bulgarian prince received the name of Caesar as a reward for the help he had rendered. For the next six years the emperor’s vengeance was wreaked on all who had been his adversaries. At last, while hastening to Cherson, where Philippicus Bardanes, an Armenian officer, had been proclaimed emperor, Rhinotmetus was slain near Damatrys in Asia Minor.

The first dethronement of Justinian, in 695, had been accomplished by an officer named Leontius, who reigned from then until 698, and it was in this period that the Arabs succeeded in gaining possession of almost all Roman Africa, including Carthage. The Byzantine fleet which had been sent to oppose this invasion revolted, while off the coast of Crete, and raised the admiral, Apsimarus, to the purple under the title of Tiberius III (698-705). The reign of Tiberius was not unsuccessful, but in 705 Justinian returned, and both Tiberius and Leontius (who had meantime been living in a monastery) were beheaded. Philippicus the Armenian, following upon the second reign of Rhinotmetus, favored the religious principles of his Armenian countrymen, and the people of Byzantium raised to the throne in his stead Anastasius II (713-15), an able civilian official, who restored the orthodox faith. But when he attempted to check the insubordination of the army, which had made three emperors since 695, the troops of the Opsikion themes (from the territory of the Troad as far as Nicaea) proclaimed as emperor the unwilling Theodosius (715-17), an obscure official of one of the provinces. At the same time the Caliph Suleiman was equipping a vast armament to ravage the frontier provinces. Thus the empire which the army, under the great military emperors, Heraclius, Constans, and Constantine, had saved from the threatened invasion of the Arabs, seemed fated to be brought to destruction by the selfsame army. But the army was better than the events of the preceding twenty-two years might seem to indicate. Leo and Artavasdus, commanders, respectively, of the two most important themata, the Anatolic and the Armenian, combined forces. Theodosius voluntarily abdicated, and again the throne of Constantine was occupied by a great Byzantine ruler, fitted by nature for his position, Leo of Germanicia (now Marash) in Northern Syria.

This brief review of the various rulers suffices to show that the diseased mentality of Justinian II brought to an end the prosperous period of the Heraclean dynasty. The attempt has been made to prove that this prince inherited an unsound mind, and to discover corresponding symptoms of insanity in his ancestors. This much is certain: that a strength of will carried at times to the point of foolhardiness and incorrigible obstinacy and a propensity to the despotic exercise of power distinguish the whole dynasty.

Even Heraclius, by a personal inclination to which he clung in defiance of reason and against the remonstrances of his well-wishers, placed the peace of the State and the perpetuation of his dynasty in serious peril. This was his passion for his niece Martina, whom he married after the death of his first wife in defiance of all the warnings of the great Patriarch Sergius. Martina is the only woman of any political importance during these warlike times. Her character was distinguished by a consuming ambition, and her influence may have increased when, after the loss of Syria, to the Arabs, Heraclius, becoming afflicted with an internal disease, fell into a state of lethargy. On the death of her husband (641) she sought to obtain the supreme power for her own son Heracleonas, to the prejudice of her stepson Constantine. The army recognized both princes as sovereign, a state of things which contained the germ of further complications. Fortunately Constantine, who had long been ailing, died a few weeks after his father, and the army, ignoring Martina and Heracleonas, placed Constans, the son of Constantine, on the throne. Thus it was that the almost uninterrupted succession of the three emperors, Heraclius, Constans, and Constantine IV, Pogonatus came about.

As has been repeatedly observed, the activity of these rulers was concentrated on the Herculean task of defending the empire against the foreign foes that were bearing down on it from all sides. Fortunately, the Avars, who from the time of Justinian had been bought off with an annual tribute, but who as lately as 623 and 626 had besieged Constantinople, were gradually hemmed in by the onrushing Slavs and Bulgarians upon the Hungarian, lowlands, and thereby removed from immediate contact with the Byzantine Empire. All the more persistent, however, were the attacks of the Slavic races. During the time of Heraclius the Croats and Serbs established themselves in their present homes. The Roman cities of Dalmatia had difficulty in defending themselves. Presently the Slavs took to the sea, and by 623 they had pushed their way as far as Crete. Still their visits were only occasional; they made no permanent settlements on the islands, and on the mainland the larger cities escaped subjection to Slavic influence. Thessalonica was attacked again and again most seriously in 675, but was saved each time by, the heroism of her citizens. The Slavs, fortunately, were still split into different tribes; so that they could be held in check by timely expeditions, such as that which Constans had made near Thessalonica. It was otherwise with the Bulgarians. In 635 Heraclius concluded an alliance with their prince, Kuvrat, so as to, use them in opposing the Avars and Slavs. However, there soon arose in’ the territory between the Danube and the Balkan Peninsula, under the leadership of the Bulgarians, a state composed of Slavonic and Finnic-Ugrian elements. Their organization differed widely from that of the Serbs and Croats, who were held together by no political bond. In 679 the Emperor Constantine Pogonatus suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Bulgarians; by 695 things had come to such a pass that Justinian II reconquered Constantinople through Bulgarian assistance. In later centuries the Bulgarian State became Byzantium’s most dangerous European foe.

But at this period its most formidable enemies were its neighbors, the Persians. It will be recalled how Anastasius and Justinian I had fought with this nation, and how, in the peace of 562, Lazistan at least had been held as a guarantee of Byzantine supremacy over the trade routes to Central Asia. The twenty years’ war (571-91) brought many vicissitudes. At last the Emperor Mauritius obtained possession of Dara and Martyropolis, in Syria, as well as the greater part of Armenia. Nisibis, however, remained Persian. So far, an important advantage had been gained for Byzantium. But the assassination of Mauritius effected a marked change. Chosroes II, Parvez, commenced war against the usurper Phocas, which he continued against his successor, Heraclius. In 606 Dara fell, and in 608 the Persians appeared for the first time before Chalcedon. In 611 they captured Antioch and the eastern part of Asia Minor, in 613 Damascus, and in 614 Jerusalem. The True Cross fell into their hands and was carried off to Persia. In 615 a Persian army stood before Chalcedon for the second time. In 619 they conquered Ancyra, in Asia Minor, and even Egypt. Heraclius saved himself splendidly from this terrible situation. In three daring campaigns (622-28) he freed Armenia from her oppressors. By the peace of 628 Armenia and Syria were recovered. On September 14, 629, the True Cross, restored by the Persians, was again set up in Jerusalem, and in 629 Egypt like-wise was wrested from the Persians. Then came the fearful reverses consequent on the Arab rising; in 635 Damascus fell; in 637 Jerusalem was surrendered by the Patriarch Sophronius, after a siege of two years. At first (634) Heraclius himself came to Antioch to organize the campaign; then followed the lethargy due to his sickness, and he supinely allowed the Arabs to advance. At his death (641) Egypt was virtually lost; on September 29, 643, Amru entered Alexandria; in 647 the province of Africa, and in 697 its capital, Carthage, fell into the hands of the Arabs. Meanwhile the Arabs had built a navy, and soon the war raged on all sides. They had taken Cyprus in 648; in 655 they first thought of attacking Constantinople. Fortunately their fleet was vanquished off the Lycian coast. Later they established themselves in Cyzicus, and from 673 to 677 menaced the capital. At the same time they conquered Armenia (654) and ravaged Asia Minor. In 668 they pushed on to Chalcedon. During all these losses, the Greeks could show only one step gained—or rather one successful attempt to safeguard their power. Many Christian families emigrated from Asia Minor and Syria to Sicily, Lower Italy, and Rome, thus strengthening the Byzantine power in the West, and the Emperor Constans could use Sicily as a base for the reconquest of Africa (662). He is thought to have intended making Rome once more the capital of the empire. In 668, however, he was murdered in Syracuse, during a military uprising, and with him these vast plans came to an end. His son, Constantine IV, was very young at the time of his accession; still he was not only able to assert his authority in the face of an unruly army, but soon, like his father and great-grandfather, proved himself a brave warrior, and displayed consummate generalship against the Arabs, the Slavs, and the Bulgarians.

The splendid prowess of Byzantium is still brilliantly apparent, in spite of these losses. This was due, in the first place, to its excellent military equipment. The period of the Arab peril, a peril which at a later date in the West, during the time of Charles Martel, saw the introduction of cavalry wearing defensive armor in place of the Roman and Germanicinfantry, marked a like innovation in the East, at an earlier period. The Byzantine cuirassiers or cataphracti, probably originated at this time. Moreover, the State was now thoroughly organized on military lines. The system of themata, after the model of the exarchate of Ravenna and Africa, found acceptance in Asia Minor, and gradually spread through the whole empire. The themes of the Cibyrrhaeots, in southern Asia Minor, belonged to the districts which during the Roman Republic had produced the most notorious pirates. In the Saracen wars the fleet played a very important part; the Byzantine victory, therefore, showed that the Byzantine fleet was not only equal to that of the Arabs in point of men and solidity of construction, but had an important technical advantage. During the great leaguer of Constantinople, from April to September, 673, Callinicus, a Syrian, is said to have taught the Greeks the use of gunpowder, or “Greek fire”.

It remains to discuss the ecclesiastical disputes of the seventh century. At first everything seemed to point towards a compromise. The Persian invasions, which had swept over the Christian peoples of the Orient since 606, probably strengthened a feeling of kinship among Christian nations. Even during his Armenian campaign, Heraclius began to prepare the way for the union with the Oriental Churches. He was supported in his efforts by Sergius, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Pope Honorius I. As a basis of dogmatic unity, Heraclius proclaimed as a formula of faith the “union of the two Natures of the GodMan through the Divine-human energy”. Everything seemed propitious, the only opponent of the movement being Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, who was afterwards forced to surrender the city to the Arabs. His antagonism lent the opposition movement’ stability and permanence. Heraclius, in his effort to conciliate the Monophysites, in his “Ecthesis” of 638 emphasized still more emphatically the union of the two natures by one will (Monothelitism). Immediately the West—and particularly Africa, the scene of St. Maximus’s labors—set up the standard of opposition. It was of no avail that Emperor Constans II in his “Typus” (648) forbade all contention over the number of wills and energies, and that he caused Pope Martin I, as well as St. Maximus to be apprehended and banished to Cherson. The West was temporarily defeated, though destined finally to conquer. After Syria, Egypt, and Africa had been lost to the Arabs, there was no further object in trying to establish Monothelitism. At the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-81) orthodoxy was reestablished by the Emperor Constantine IV. That this move was in harmony with the desire of the Greek people, was evident during the reign of Philippicus, the Armenian. His attempt to restore Monothelitism in the Rome of the East resulted in his dethronement. Once more the Greeks had cut themselves loose from the Armenians; whether to the advantage of the empire is a question which receives various answers.

(3) Iconoclasm; 717-867.

Leo III, the Syrian (Isaurian)


Constantine V, Copronymus


Leo IV —————Irene


Maria ——Constantine IV —————Theodota

Nicephorus I ————?

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Stauracius ? ————Michael I, Rhangabe


Leo V, the Armenian


Michael II Balbus, the Phygian (from Amorium)

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Theophilus ————Theodora Bardas


Michael III, the Drunkard

During this period two dynasties occupied the throne, each lasting for several generations. Both were of Eastern origin, the one from Northern Syria, the other from Phrygia. Leo V (813-20) also was of Oriental extraction. On the other hand, Nicephorus I (802-11) and his son-in-law Michael I, Rhangabe (811-13), were Greeks. In other words, the government of the empire became orientalized. This racial antagonism must be borne in mind in order to grasp the bitterness of the religious contentions of the period. The same period shows a second dynastic anomaly: for the first and last time there is an empress on the throne not as regent, but with the full title Basileus. This is Irene, perhaps the most disagreeable character of all the great Byzantine women. Like Athenais, she was an Athenian, but in the charm of the Muses she was totally lacking. Two passions possessed her soul: ambition and religious fanaticism; but her piety was of a strange kind. She persisted in her devotion to her party with the unswerving conviction that her opinion was right, and she did not hesitate to commit the most atrocious crimes of which a woman could be guilty in order to ruin her son morally and physically. Not without reason has Irene been compared to Catherine de’ Medici. On the death of her husband, Leo IV (775-80), in her desire for power she strove to keep her son as a minor as long as possible, and finally to set him aside altogether. Of her own authority she cancelled the betrothal of Constantine VI (780-97) to Rotrud, the daughter of Charlemagne, and forced him to marry Maria, an Armenian, a woman wholly distasteful to him. When the seventeen-year-old emperor showed a disposition to escape her power, she had him scourged with rods. She finally lent her sanction to his marriage with a woman of the court, Theodota, a union regarded by the Church as bigamous. In this way she thought to make his accession to power impossible. The worst, however, was still to come; Irene took advantage of an uprising to rid herself of her son permanently. Constantine VI, blinded at the command of his mother, ended his life in an obscure apartment of the imperial palace, where Theodota bore him a son. His mother now ruled alone (797-802) until the elevation of the grand treasurer, Nicephorus, put an end to her power, and she spent her remaining years on the island of Lesbos in sickness and poverty.

Irene is honored as a saint in the Greek Church, because at the Seventh General Synod of Nicaea (787), she obtained important concessions in the matter of the veneration of images. Though the adoration of images, as well as other abusive practices of veneration, which had already been condemned as idolatrous, were again wholly forbidden, prostrate veneration, incense, and candles were permitted. Theodora achieved a similar prominence. After the fall of Irene, the Iconoclasts again gained the upper hand, and the brief reign of Michael I, who supplanted his brother-in-law Stauracius (811), was powerless to change this. The Emperor Theophilus (829-42) in the vigour of his religious persecution approached the energetic Constantine V (741-75), known to the opposite party, and later to historians, by the insulting epithet of Copronymus. When Theodora became regent, through the early death of her husband, she introduced milder measures. A compromise was effected between the parties. At the synod of 843 permission was given for the veneration of images, and at the same time the anathema was removed from the name of the Emperor Theophilus. In order to remove it, Theodora, it is said, was guilty of a pious fraud and the false declaration that the emperor, before his death, had been converted to the veneration of images. Of more importance, however, is the fact that the members of the ecclesiastical party, by removing the anathema against the emperor, yielded to state authority, and while victorious in the dogmatic controversy acknowledged that they were vanquished in the ecclesiastico-political.

The questions of this time seem to have concerned matters of far-reaching importance, problems which, despite their strange dress, appear fundamentally quite modern and familiar. The dogmatical side of these contests was not connected with the old controversy about the two natures of Christ, but with the heretical views of different Oriental sects, influenced by Judaism and Mohammedanism. The eastern frontier of the empire in Asia Minor was the home of these multifarious sects, which guaranteed the separate existence of the tribes which belonged to them and regarded themselves as the “faithful” in opposition to the state Church. Leo III, the Syrian (717-41), who saved Byzantium from the Arabian peril, repulsed the last serious attack of the Arabs on the capital (September, 717, to August, 718), by his reforms made the empire superior to its foes, and brought the views of these sectaries into the policy of the Byzantine empire. In the celebrated edict of 726 he condemned the veneration of images, a decree which he considered part of his reforming activity. Probably he hoped by this means to bring the people of the empire closer to Islam, to lessen the differences between the two religions. This may be regarded as another attempt to orientalize the empire, such as the dynasty of Heraclius and others before had previously made. The Greek nation answered by promptly repudiating the attempt, all the more emphatically because here again dogmatic and national antagonisms were connected with the struggle between Church and State.

It is unjust to attribute unworthy motives to the party who called themselves image-worshippers and rallied around such men as Plato, abbot of the monastery of Saccudion, and his nephew Theodore, afterwards Abbot of Studium. The fact is that the whole movement was based on a deeply religious spirit which led to detachment from the world and indeed to complete insensibility towards all earthly ties, even the most legitimate. The ideal of these men is not the Christian ideal of today; their rigorous stand might not always meet with our approval. But it was a party that exerted a powerful influence on the people, which could only be intensified by persecution. In this movement it seems possible to discern the forerunner of the great reform movement of the West during the tenth and eleventh centuries, a movement which tended to intensify religious life and which stood for the liberation of the Church from the control of the State.

The Iconoclasts, on the other hand, represented a principle which we know to have been forced into the Greek-Byzantine world as something foreign. It encountered sentiments and views, however, with which it could combine. In spite of the Christianization of Byzantium, there remained there a residue of ancient pagan Roman ideas. The Byzantines of this school often appear so modern to us precisely because they were permeated with rationalistic, anti-ecclesiastical sentiments. Such men were found most frequently among the cultured classes, the high dignitaries of Church and State. This is why Iconoclasm, which was sympathetic to this rationalistic tendency, could develop into a general movement, and why it reminds us in so many ways of the rationalistic movement of the eighteenth century; it also explains why the Iconoclastic emperors always found supporters in the higher ranks of the clergy. Thus it was that Leo III conducted his attack against the protesting popes through the Patriarch Anastasius. When Pope Gregory II refused to recognize the edict of 726, the emperor withdrew from his jurisdiction Sicily, Lower Italy, and Illyria, and placed them under the Patriarch of Constantinople. Constantine Copronymus had similar support. Upheld by prelates in favor of a national Church, he once more, through the council of 754, prohibited the veneration of images. We know of the numerous martyrdoms caused by the execution of the decree, and how the Empress Irene, herself a friend of the “image-worshippers”, finally yielded. There soon followed the reaction of the Iconoclasts under Leo V, the Armenian, and the Phrygian dynasty, and at last the legal restoration of image-worship by Theodora. We have already seen that this victory of the orthodox party, viewed from an ecclesiastico-political standpoint, was not complete. The reason of this partial defeat lay not in the existence of a party among the higher clergy favoring a national Church, but in the fact that the orthodox party gradually lost their hold on the people. We know how the antagonism of the Greeks to the Latins had gradually grown more intense. It was regarded as unpatriotic when Theodore of Studium and his friends so openly declared for Rome. The strength of this National-Church movement came into most perfect evidence with the advent of the great Photius. His rise and the fall of the Patriarch Ignatius were connected with a shabby court intrigue, the Patriarch Ignatius having ventured to oppose the all-powerful Bardas during the reign of Michael III (842-67). At first the proceedings of Photius differed in no respect from those of a common office-seeker. But by opposing the claims of Old Rome to Bulgarian obedience he suddenly gained immense popularity, and thus paved the way for the ultimate separation of the Greek and Latin Churches.

It was Boris (852-88), the Bulgarian Tsar, who stirred up the entire question. With the help of St. Clement, a disciple of Methodius, the Apostle of the Slavs, he had introduced Christianity among his people; on the occasion of his own baptism, the Emperor Michael III was sponsor. Soon afterwards Boris tried to withdraw from the influence of East Rome, and enter into closer relations with Old Rome. At the same time the Holy See renewed its claims to the Illyrian obedience. Photius’s answer was the egkuklios epistol? (circular letter) of 867, by which he sought to establish the separation from Old Rome both in ritual and in dogma. In spite of the many vacillations of Byzantine politics between the partisans of Ignatius and those of Photius during the next decades, this was the first decisive step towards the schism of 1054.

During this whole period the Bulgarians had given great trouble to the Byzantine Empire. The Emperor Nicephorus I fell in battle against them, and his successors warded them off only with the greatest difficulty. Equally violent were the wars against the Saracens and the Slavs. There was no second investment of the capital by the Syrian Arabs, it is true, though on the other hand, in 860, the city was hard pressed by the Varangian Ros, but all the more danger was to be apprehended from the Arabs who had been expelled from Spain and had settled in Egypt in 815. In 826 they conquered Crete, and about the same time the Arabs of Northern Africa began to settle in Sicily, a migratory movement which finally resulted in the complete loss of the island to the Byzantines. As once they had come from Syria and Asia Minor, so now many Greek families migrated to Lower Italy and the Peloponnesus. The ‘Christianization and hellenization of the Slavs was now begun, and soon produced rich fruits. It is difficult, as we have already said, to determine how great an admixture of Slavic blood flows in the veins of the Greeks of today; on the other hand, it is certain that the Slavs have left many traces of their laws and customs. The agrarian law, dating, possibly, from the time of the Emperor Leo III, shows the strength of the Slavic influence on the development of the Byzantine agrarian system.

It remains to touch on the relations between the Byzantine Empire and the West during this period. In the West, the Frankish nation had gradually taken the lead of all other Germanic peoples. As we know, the relations of Byzantium with these nations were always somewhat unstable. One thing only had remained unchanged: the Byzantine rulers, as legitimate successors of the Roman emperors, had always maintained their claim to sovereignty over the Germanic peoples. For the most part this had been unconditionally admitted, as is evident from the coinage. At the time of the Empress Irene, however, a great change set in. The restoration of the Roman Empire of the West by Charlemagne (800) was the signal for a complete break with all previous traditions. The West stood now on the same footing as the East. As we know, this important step had been taken in full accord with the papacy. Historically, it is thus a part of the controversies which began with the withdrawal of. Illyrian obedience, and culminated in the egkuklios epistol? of Photius. The idea of a national imperial Church seemed to prevail in both East and West; to be sure this was only seemingly so, for the popes did not give up their universal supremacy, but soon began again to utilize politically their advantageous location midway between East and West.

(4) Period of Political Balance; 867-1057.

Michael III ——————Eudocia Ingerina ————Basil I

‚Üì ‚Üì

Zoe ——Leo VI Alexander

‚Üì Romanus I, (Lacapenus)

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

Constantine VII —————Helena Stephen Constantine


Romanus II ——————Theophano ——Nicephorus II, Phocas

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

Basil II Constantine VIII Theodora ———John Zimisces

?————? ‚Üì ‚Üì

‚Üì ‚Üì (I) Romanus III, Argyrus——‚Üì ‚Üì

Maria (2) Michael IV ————————Zoe Theodora

‚Üì (3) Constantine IX, Monomachus —

Michael V

The period of the highest development of Byzantine power was not dynastically the most fortunate. Seldom has there been such an accumulation of moral filth as in the family of Basil the Macedonian (867-86). The founder of the house, a handsome hostler of Armenian extraction, from the vicinity of Adrianople, attracted the notice of a high official by his powerful build and his athletic strength and later gained the favor of the dissolute emperor Michael III, the last of the Phrygian emperors. Basil was also a favorite with women. His relations with the elderly Danielis of Patras, whom he had met whilst in the retinue of his master, were most scandalous. The gifts of this extremely wealthy woman laid the foundations of Basil’s fortune. The depth of his baseness, however, is best seen in his marriage to the emperor’s mistress, Eudocia Ingerina. Michael III stipulated that Eudocia should remain his mistress, so that it is impossible to say who was the father of Leo VI, the Wise (886-912). His physical frailty and taste for learned pursuits—during his reign the Code of the Basilica was prepared in sixty books—as also the mutual aversion between Basil and Leo are no evidence for the paternity of the Macedonian. If this view be correct, Basil’s line was soon extinct, as his real son, Alexander, reigned only one year (912-13). Constantine VII, Porphyrogenitus (913-59) the long wished-for heir, by the fourth marriage of Leo the Wise, inherited the learned tastes of his father, but was not completely deficient in energy. It is true he left the government at first to his father-in-law, Romanus I, Lacapenus (919-44), and later to his wife Helena; still, when Romanus had become too overbearing, Constantine VII showed himself possessed of enough initiative to enlist the aid of Stephen and Constantine, sons of Romanus, in overthrowing the power of their father, and, later, to set aside his brothers-in-law (945). In Romanus II (959-63) the dissolute nature of his great-grandfather Michael III reappeared. His reign, fortunately, lasted only a few years, and then Theophano, his widow, the daughter of an innkeeper, took into her hands the reins of government, for her minor sons. Circumstances compelled her marriage with Nicephorus II, Phocas (963-69), an old and fanatically religious warrior. He is the first of that series of great military leaders who occupied the Byzantine throne, and who soon raised the empire to undreamed-of heights of power. As in the dynasty of Heraclius, three of these reigned in succession: Nicephorus II, John Zimisces, and Basil II. John I, Zimisces (969-76), was the nephew of Nicephorus, but very unlike him. The younger man was as joyous and life-loving in disposition as the older was grim and unlovable. Theophano, therefore, did not hesitate to introduce into the palace the murderer of her morose husband. But like Sophia, niece of the great Theodora, she saw her hopes dashed to the ground. The new emperor confined her in a convent and, to legitimize his power, married Theodora, sister of Basil and Constantine, the two young emperors. Like his uncle, John Zimisces was only coregent, but he showed great force in his administration of affairs. At his death the elder of the young emperors was competent to take charge of the State. Luckily, Basil II (976-1025) proved as capable a military leader as his two predecessors. It was under his brother, Constantine VIII (1026-28), that the reaction set in. In opposition to the great imperial generals who had brought the empire to an unhoped-for pinnacle of power, a civilian party had grown up which had for its aim the curtailment of military power. This party was successful during the reigns of Constantine and his successors. Constantine VIII left two daughters, Zoe and Theodora. Zoe (1028-50) was forty-eight years of age at the death of her father, but even after that married three times, and by her amours and her jealousy brought many trials upon her younger sister. Zoe’s three husbands, Romanus III, Argyrus (1028-34), Michael IV (1034-41), and Constantine IX, Monomachus (1042-54), all came from the higher bureaucratic circles. Thus the civil party had gained its end. This explains why neither Zoe nor the nephew of her second husband, whom she had adopted, and who proved so ungrateful, Michael V (1041-42—termed the Caulker because his father was a naval engineer) could uphold the glory attained by the State during the times of the great military emperors. Even generals as great as Georgius Maniaces and Harold Hardrada—the latter, chief of the North-German (Varangian) body-guard which was coming more and more into prominence—were powerless to stem the tide of the decline. The general discontent was most manifest when Theodora, on the death of her sister and her last surviving brother-in-law, assumed the reins of power, and not unsuccessfully (1054-56). On her deathbed she transferred the purple to the aged senator Michael VI, Stratioticus (1056-57). This was the signal for the military power to protest. The holders of Feat landed estates in Asia Minor gave the power Instead to one of their own faction. Isaac I, Comnenus, inaugurates a new era.

During the period of its greatest power, i.e. under the military emperors, the Byzantine State was able to expand equally in all directions. It had its share of reverses, it is true. The most important was the final loss of Sicily to the Saracens; in 878 Syracuse fell, and in 902 Tauromenium (Taormina), the last Byzantine stronghold on the island, was taken by the Arabs. Two years later Thessalonica was subjected to an appalling pillage. As compensation for the loss of Sicily, however, the Byzantines had Lower Italy, where, since the conquest of Bari (875), the Lombard thema had been established. This led to the renewal’ of relations with the Western powers, especially with the recently founded Saxon line. The Byzantines were still able to hold their own with these, as formerly with the Carlovingians. Conspicuous was the success of the campaigns against the Arabs in the East: the fall of the Caliphate of Bagdad rendered it possible to push forward the frontier towards Syria; Melitene (928), Nisibis (942-43), Tarsus and Cyprus (965), and Antioch (968-69) were captured in turn. About the same time (961) Crete was wrested back from the Arabs. These were the battlefields on which the great generals of the empire, chiefly Armenian, Paphlagonian, and Cappadocian by race, won distinction. Under Romanus I it was the great Armenian Kurkuas, and later the Cappadocian Nicephorus Phocas who achieved these victories. Nicephorus, as husband of Theophano, ascended the throne, and as emperor he achieved his victorious campaign against the Arabs. His assassination brought to the throne his nephew John Zimisces, an Armenian, and fortunately a warrior as great as his uncle.

John made preparations for the subjugation of the Bulgarians. It will be recalled how Tsar Boris introduced Christianity into Bulgaria and, even at that period, thought, by ingratiating himself with Rome, to escape from Byzantine influence. Tsar Symeon (893-927) devised another way of attaining independence. He raised his archbishop to the rank of patriarch, thereby proclaiming the ecclesiastical autonomy of Bulgaria. His ultimate aim became evident when he assumed the title of Tsar of the Bulgarians and Autocrat of the Romans. This dream, however, was not to be realized. Though Symeon had extended the boundaries of his dominions as far as the Adriatic Sea, though he held Adrianople for a time, and in 917 inflicted a crushing defeat on the Greeks, still, under his successor Peter (927-69), Macedonia and Illyria shook off the Bulgarian yoke and established a West Bulgarian State under the usurper Shishman and his successors. Even under these trying circumstances the policy of Byzantium was skillful: it recognized the Bulgarian patriarchate—thus widening the breach with Rome—but on the other hand lost no time in inciting the neighboring peoples, the Magyars, Petchenegs, Cumani, and Croatians, against the Bulgarians. The Russians, also, who in 941 threatened Constantinople for the second and last time, were stirred up against the Bulgarians. But soon it was recognized that the devil had been expelled with the help of Beelzebub. The grand Duke Svjatoslay of Kiev settled south of the Danube, and in 969 seized the old Bulgarian capital of Preslav for his residence. The Emperor John Zimisces now interfered. In 971 he captured Preslav and Silistria, but did not reestablish the Bulgarian State. Tsar Boris II was taken to Constantinople and received as compensation the title of Magister; the Bulgarian patriarchate was suppressed. There now remained only the West Bulgarian State under Shishman.

The work begun by John Zimisces was completed by Basil II, “Slayer of Bulgarians”. In three great campaigns the Bulgarians were subjugated with, monstrous cruelty. The work, however, was accomplished. When, in 1014, the emperor celebrated his victory with imposing ceremonies in the church of Panagia at Athens (the old Parthenon), the Greek Empire stood on a height it was never again to reach. Basil II was succeeded by his brother Constantine VIII who never distinguished himself, and by the daughters of the latter, Zoe and Theodora. The government passed from the hands of the military party into those of high civilian officials, and soon defeat followed on defeat. Under heroes like Georgius Maniaces, and Harold Hardrada, it is true, headway was made against the most various foes. But after 1021 Armenia, which had reached a high state of prosperity under the rule of the Bagratides, and had been annexed to Byzantine territory by Basil II and Constantine IX, gradually passed under the sway of the Seljuk Turks and after 1041 Lower Italy was conquered by the Normans. This is the first appearance of the two foes who were slowly but surely to bring about the destruction of the empire, and the worst feature of their case was that the Greeks themselves prepared the way for their future destroyers. As formerly Blessed Theodora and her successors had persecuted the heterodox Paulicians, who were the brave protectors of the frontier of Asia Minor, and whom John Zimisces later established near Philippopolis, so now the Greek clergy were treating the Bulgarians and Armenians most harshly. The Western Church also at times wounded national feelings and sometimes provoked the hostility of individual nations by financial exactions. It would be difficult, however, to point out in the history of Rome such complete disregard of the obligations of the universal Church as was shown by the Patriarchs of Constantinople. It is not a matter for surprise, then, that the oppressed nations became more and more alienated from Byzantium and finally welcomed hostile invasions as a sort of relief, though of course ultimately they found out their error. This turned out to be the case not only in Bulgaria, but also in North Syria, Armenia, and the eastern part of Asia Minor which contained a large Armenian population.

There was another circumstance that caused the Seljuk Turks to appear as liberators. In the course of the preceding centuries, a body of provincial nobility had been in process of formation in all parts of the empire. In Asia Minor—for conditions were not the same in all parts of the empire—this nobility acquired its predominance from its large landed possessions. And this, indeed, is reason for believing that no monetary system of economics existed in the older Byzantine Empire, and that the power of capitalism did not originate on its soil. Rich families invested their wealth in landed possessions, and the poorer population had to make way for them. This decline of the peasantry was a grave menace to the empire, the military strength of which declined with the decline of popular independence. Moreover, this monopolization of the land tended to undermine a military institution—that of feudal tenures. It is not known when this institution originated; possibly it was an inheritance from the Roman Empire, developed afresh, during the struggles with the Arabs, in the form of cavalry fiefs on the frontiers of Asia Minor and Syria, and as naval fiefs in the Cibyrrhaeot thema. But in any case, the danger to this institution was recognized at court, and attempts were made to meet it. Romanus I, Lacapenus, descended from an Armenian family of archons, seems to have been the first to devise legislation against the further extension of the landed interests. Other measures date from Constantine VII, Porphyrogenitus, Romanus II, and Nicephorus II, Phocas. Nicephorus II, also, was descended from a Cappadocian family of great landed proprietors, but this did not prevent him from vigorously continuing the policy of Romanus I. His stern piety—for the old warrior, after the death of his wife and his only son always wore a hair shirt, never ate meat, and slept on the bare floor—did not prevent his opposing the further extension of ecclesiastical property. For ecclesiastical, particularly monastic, holdings had gradually begun to absorb the estates of smaller land-holders. These measures against the Church were one of the causes of the fall of old Nicephorus and of the elevation of light-hearted young John Zimisces to the throne. Still, even under John Zimisces and Basil II, the struggle of the great landed interests continued. It was only the reaction after the death of Basil that gave the aristocratic party the final victory. It gained strength under the regime of the civilian emperors. Ultimately this party was strong enough to decide the succession to the imperial crown.

(5) Period of Centrifugal tendencies; 1057-1203.

?————Comnenus ?————Ducas ?—————Diogenes

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

Isaac I John Constantine X Eudocia————Romanus IV

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

?——————Alexius I Michael VII Nicephorus III

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

John II Isaac ?—————————Angelus

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

Manuel I Andronicus I ? —————————?

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

Alexius II Alexius III Isaac II

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

Alexius V, Murtzuphlos—————Eudocia Alexius IV

The powerful body of landed proprietors were of advantage to the empire in one particular. Since the decline of the old military organization they upheld the military prestige of the empire. This was all the more significant because, unfortunately, since the revival of learning an antagonism had arisen between the civil officials, who had studied in the schools of the rhetoricians, and the officers of the imperial army. We have already noted that during the last years of the so-called Macedonian dynasty, under the empresses Zoe and Theodora, the influence of the civil-service party was all-powerful. For that very reason a council of the landed proprietors of Asia Minor raised Isaac Comnenus (1057-59), much against his will, to the throne. Isaac regarded the crown as a burden. Weary of strife with the senatorial aristocracy, he soon gave up the scepter and retired to the monastery of Studium. He considered himself defeated and accordingly designated as his successor not his capable brother John, and his sons, but an official high in the civil service, Constantine X, Ducas (1059-67), a man who during Isaac’s brief reign had greatly assisted the emperor, who was wholly unversed in affairs of administration. This meant a fresh victory for the civil bureaucracy, who signalized their accession to power by setting aside army interests, and even the most pressing requirements for the defense of the empire. This naturally led to a severe retribution, and as a consequence popular sympathy reverted to the military party. At the death of Constantine, the widowed Empress Eudocia took a step decisive for the fate of the empire by recognizing the need and choosing as her husband Romanus IV, Diogenes (1067-71), an able officer and one of the heroic figures of Byzantine history. Romanus was pursued by misfortune, and after four years the government again fell into the hands of the civil party. Michael VII, Parapinaces (1071-78), the pupil of Psellus, was raised to the throne. Soon the crisis became so serious that another military emperor was placed on the throne, Nicephorus III, Botaniates (1078-81). The old man, however, was unable to bring order out of the universal chaos. The Comneni were recalled. Alexius I, Comnenus (1081-1118), who had been excluded from the succession by his uncle, took the reins of government and founded the last of the great dynasties, which was to give the empire three more brilliant rulers, Alexius I, John II, and Manuel I.

The splendor of the Comneni was the splendor of the setting sun. It was a period of restoration. Men hoped again to raise literature to the standard of the classic authors and to revive the ancient language, and thus they hoped to restore the glory of the Roman Empire. Only too often it was merely a jugglery with high sounding words. Never were the titles of state officials more imposing than during the period of the Comneni; and never, on the other hand, was the empire in a more precarious position, despite all its outward splendor. The old Byzantine army was demoralized; foreign mercenaries had replaced the native troops. Saddest of all was the decay of the fleet. Things had come to such a pass that no shame was felt at being dependent on the allied Italian seaports. Still, not a little was achieved. Clever diplomacy replaced actual power, and succeeded in preserving for some time the semblance of Byzantine supremacy. Moreover, the Greeks seem to have learned the art of husbanding their resources better than they had, and this was due largely to the cooperation of the Western nations. We know for a certainty that during the time of the Comneni ground-rents were levied in coin. This income was increased by the heavy receipts from custom duties. In a word, the economic administration of both publics and private business was admirable during this period. It was most unfortunate that this splendor should be darkened by the deep shadows of official corruption, the depreciation of currency, and a total disregard of the Byzantine national, or rather civic, conscience.

Abroad, the Byzantine State was menaced, as of old, on three sides: on the East by the Seljuk Turks, who had supplanted the Arabs; on the Seljuk by the Normans, who had succeeded the Arabs in that quarter; on the North by the Slavs, Bulgarians, and Finnic-Ugrian peoples (Magyars, Petchenegs, and Cumani). All three perils were bravely met, though at the cost of heavy losses. In 1064 the Seljuk Turk Alp-Arslan destroyed Ani, the center of Armenian civilization, whereupon many Armenians emigrated to Little Armenia in the Cilician Taurus. In 1071 the brave Romanus IV was made a prisoner by the Seljuks near Mantzikert. Having been released by the chivalrous Alp-Arslan, he was put to death in the most barbarous manner in his own country, during the frightful revolution which placed Michael VII on the throne. In the same year (1071) Bari was lost to the Normans, and in 1085 Antioch was captured by the Turks. This period also marked the beginning of the Norman raids on the Balkan Peninsula. Between 1081 and 1085 Albania and Thessaly were threatened by Robert Guiscard and his son Bohemund who were twice defeated in naval encounters by the Byzantines in league with the Venetians. On land, however, they proved their superiority in several places, until the death of the elder Guiscard put an end to their projects and gave the Byzantine State half-a-century of peace in that direction. After that period, however, the raids were renewed. In 1147 Thebes and Corinth were taken by King Roger, on which occasion many silk-weavers were deported to Sicily. In 1185, at the command of King William II of Sicily, Thessalonica was reduced to ashes. To the north, the outlook was no brighter. The Byzantine State was successful, it is true, in keeping the Serbs in nominal subjection, and in entering into diplomatic and family relations with the royal family of Hungary, but the Bulgarians finally broke loose from Byzantine control. In 1186 they established their new kingdom at Tirnovo, with an autocephalous archbishopric. Soon after this they began once more to push farther to the west and thus laid the foundation of their present ethnographic homes in Thrace and Macedonia.

These heavy reverses, however, were counter-balanced by successes; at the same time it was of great moment that this period marked the beginning of that great movement of the West towards the East, the Crusades. The Byzantine Empire derived great advantage from this, and in some respects fully realized the fact. Even the First Crusade brought about two important results: the victory of the crusaders at Dorylaeum (1097) brought the western part of Asia Minor directly under Byzantine control, and Antioch indirectly, through the oath of fealty exacted of Bohemund (1108); the Second Crusade, during which the Emperor Manuel allied himself with the Emperor Conrad III (1149), neutralized the power of the Italian Normans. Manuel now conceived far-reaching plans. He avenged King Roger‘s incursion into central Greece (1147) by the recapture of Corfu (1149) and the occupation of Ancona (1151), in this way becoming a factor in Italo-German complications. He actually dreamed, as Justinian and Constans II had, of reestablishing the Roman Empire of, the West. These ambitious demands found no favor with the popes, with whom, since the quarrel about the Norman possessions in South Italy, under the Patriarch Michael Cerularius (1054), a final rupture had taken place. Thus the undertaking resulted in failure. Great offense had been given to the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, which became manifest when he allied himself with the Seljuk Turks and the Sultan, of Egypt.

Byzantium also reaped great advantage from the establishment of the principalities of the crusaders in Syria. The invasion of the East by the crusaders also brought new dangers, which grew constantly more menacing. Even before this the constant and manifold intercourse between the empire and the Italian maritime states, as well as the settlement of the Amalfians, Pisans, Genoese, and Venetians in Byzantine cities, had involved many inconveniences. It is true that the victory over the Normans in the campaign of 1081-85 was gained with the aid of the Venetians, but by 1126 war was in progress with Venice. The commercial republics of Italy grew constantly more, arrogant, demanding trading privileges as payment for aid rendered by them, and retaliating for any slights by hostile invasions. It was only the rivalries of the Italian cities that enabled the Byzantines to maintain their supremacy in their own country. As a matter of fact, the Italians had long regarded the empire merely as their prey, and so it was inevitable that the hatred of the Greek nation should be slowly gathering strength. Even the spirit of the administration had long since become Western—the Emperor Manuel lived like a Western knight and twice married European princesses—when it became evident that the pent-up hatred must soon break forth. The crisis came after the death of Manuel, during the regency of his second wife, Maria of Antioch, and with frightful results. At the head of the movement was a man wholly devoid of principle, but of great personal charm and magnetism. This was Andronicus the Liberator (1183-85), at that time, about sixty-seven years of age. The movement began (1182) with the appalling slaughter of the Latins; Andronicus was placed on the throne (1183), and in 1184 the young Emperor Alexius was assassinated. The Latins, however, took a terrible vengeance. In 1185 Dyrrachium and soon afterwards Thessalonica were captured amid frightful cruelties. These disasters reacted on the capital. The Byzantines were no longer able to uphold their independence, and a counter-revolution was inaugurated. The aged Andronicus was beheaded, and the first of the Angeli, Isaac II (1185-95, and again 1203-04), ascended the throne. We know how the difficulties between Isaac and his elder brother Alexius III (1195-1203) resulted in an appeal by the dethroned emperor to his brother-in-law, Philip of Swabia, and how, owing to various circumstances, the Fourth Crusade was turned against Constantinople. The Fourth Crusade ended this period of Byzantine history; the empire was in ruins, out of which, however, deft hands contrived to build up a new Byzantine State, and a feeble reproduction of the former magnificence.

(6) The Decline; 1203-1453.

Theodore I, Lascaris Frederick II of Hohenstaufen

‚Üì ‚Üì ‚Üì

Constantine Irene———John III, Ducas Vatatzes————Anna


Theodore II, Lascaris


John IV, Lascaris

Michael VIII, Palaeologus


Andronicus II




John VI, Cantacuzene Andronicus III————————Anne of Savoy


?——————John V

‚Üì ‚Üì

Andronicus IV Manuel II

‚Üì ‚Üì

John VII John VIII


Constantine XI

The fact that there had been no regular order of succession made the Byzantine throne the focus of numerous dissensions. It is undeniable, however, that this often redounded to the advantage of the State, inasmuch as military and palace revolutions frequently brought the most capable men to the head of affairs at a decisive moment. The sentiment in favor of dynastic succession, however, had been gaining ground under the, so-called Macedonian dynasty: The views of Constantine Porphyrogenitus furnish clear evidence of this; a proof even stronger is the touching devotion exhibited by the people towards Zoe and Theodora, the last representatives of that dynasty. Still the last period of Byzantine history thrice witnessed the accession of men outside the regular line of succession. John III, Vatatzes (1222-54), set aside his brother-in-law, Constantine, thus becoming the immediate successor of Theodore Lascaris. A military revolution placed Michael VIII, Palaeologus (1259-82), at the head of the State, in place of the child John IV, Lascaris (1258-59). John VI, Cantacuzene (1341-55), contrived to obtain possession of the sovereign power under similar circumstances. It may be said of John Vatatzes and Michael Palaeologus that events alone justified the interruption of the order of succession. But the elevation of John, Cantacuzene must be counted, like the family dissensions of the Palaeologi, as among the most unfortunate occurrences of the empire. It is a sorry spectacle to see Andronicus II (1282-1328) dethroned by his grandson Andronicus III (1328-41) and immured in a monastery, and John V (1341-76 and 1379-91) superseded first by Cantacuzene then by his own son Andronicus IV (1376-79), and finally by his grandson John VII (1390). It is true that the neighboring states, the Turkish Empire in particular, were rent with similar dissensions. The house of the Palaeologi, moreover, produced some capable rulers, such as Michael VIII, Manuel II (1391-1425), Constantine XI (1448-53). Still, the contests for the throne, at a period when the imperial glory was manifestly on the wane, could not but be ruinous to the best interests of the empire, and contribute mightily to its dissolution.

At first it seemed as though such capable rulers as Theodore I, Lascaris (1204-22), John III, Vatatzes (1222-54), and Theodore II, Lascaris (1254-58), must bring back prosperous times to the empire. It was no small achievement, to be sure, that the Greeks were able not only to make a brave stand against the Franks, but to expel them again from Constantinople, a task which was all the more difficult because at that time the Greek nation had undergone a dismemberment from which it never recovered. The Empire of Trebizond, under the Comneni, survived the fall of the capital on the Bosphorus (1453) for some years. The task of reabsorbing into the body of the empire the state, or rather the states, of the Angeli in Thessalonica, Thessaly, and Epirus was accomplished slowly and with difficulty. It was impossible to drive the Franks from Byzantine soil: Split up into various minor principalities after the fall of Thessalonica (1222) and Constantinople (1261), they settled in the central part of Greece and in the Peloponnesus, in Crete, Euboea, Rhodes, and the smaller islands. Moreover, during the course of the fourteenth century, the Serbs rose to unexpected heights of power. During the reigns of Stephen Urosh II, Milutin (1281-1320), and Stephen Dushan (1321-55), it seemed as though the Serbs were about to realize the old dream of the Bulgars, of a Byzantine Empire under Slavonian rule. This dream, however, was shattered by the Turkish victory on the Field of Blackbirds (1389). It was not easy for the Greeks to maintain themselves against so many enemies for two and a half centuries, and it often appeared as though the end had come. The Frankish Emperor of Constantinople, Henry (1206-16), had come very near to destroying Greek independence, and would probably have succeeded had he not been snatched away by an early death. A second crisis came during the minority of the Latin Emperor Baldwin II (1228-61), when the Frankish princes were considering the appointment of the Bulgarian Tsar John II, Asen, as guardian of the young emperor, and regent of the empire. The plan failed of execution only because of the stubborn opposition of the Latin clergy, and the final choice fell on the old King of Jerusalem, John of Brienne (1229-37). Thus the danger was temporarily averted, and the Emperor John Vatatzes was wise enough to gain the favor of the Bulgarian powers by prudent deference to their wishes as, for instance, by recognizing the Archbishop of Tirnovo as autocephalous patriarch.

The Latin Empire became dangerous for the third and last time when the Franks began, in the year 1236, to renew their heroic attempts to regain their conquests. John Vatatzes, however, succeeded in parrying the blow by forming an alliance with the Emperor Frederick II, whose daughter Anne he espoused. Even after the fall of the capital (1261), the fugitive Frankish emperor became a source of danger, inasmuch as he ceded to the Angevins his right as Lord Paramount of Achaia. As early as the year 1259 there had been serious complications with the principality of Achaia. At that time Michael VIII, by the conquest of Pelagonia had succeeded in withstanding a coalition formed by William of Villehardouin, Prince of Achaia, Michael II, Despot of Epirus, and Manfred of Sicily. When Charles of Anjou replaced Manfred the situation became more serious. In 1267 Charles captured Corfu, and in 1272 Dyrrachium; soon afterwards he received at Foggia John IV, Lascaris, who had been overthrown and blinded by Michael VIII, Palaeologus. In this crisis Pabeologus knew of no other resource than to call upon the pope for assistance. At the Council of Lyons, his representative, Georgius Acropolites, accepted the confession of faith containing the “Filioque“, and recognized the primacy of the pope, thus securing the political support of the papacy against Anjou. Only the Sicilian Vespers gave him permanent immunity from danger from this source (1282). After this the Byzantine Empire was no longer menaced directly by the Norman peril which had reappeared in the Angevins. The Byzantines were gradually entering into a new relationship with the West. They assumed the role of coreligionists seeking protection. But of course the reunion of the churches was a condition of this aid, which, as at an earlier period, was vehemently opposed by the people. The national party had already taken a vigorous stand against the negotiations of the Council of Lyons, which had found an excellent advocate in the patriarch, John Beccus. This opposition was made manifest whenever there was any question of union with Rome from political motives, and it explains the attitude of the different factions in the last religious controversy of importance that convulsed the Byzantine world: the Hesychast movement. This movement had its inception at Athos, and involved a form of Christian mysticism which reminds us strongly of certain Oriental prototypes. By motionless meditation, the eyes fixed firmly on the navel (whence their name, Omphalopsychites), the devotees pretended to attain to a contemplation of the Divinity, and thereby absolute quietude of soul (hesychia, whence Hesychasts). The key to this movement is found in the needs of the time, and it was not confined to the Greek world. Many Eastern princes of this period assumed the “angel’s garb”, and sought peace behind monastery walls. The sect, however, did not fail to encounter opposition. In the ensuing controversy; Barlaam, a monk of Calabria, constituted himself in a special manner the adversary of Hesychasm. It is significant that Barlaam’s coming from Southern Italy, which was in union with Rome, and his having been under the influence of the Scholasticism of the West did not commend him to the good graces of the people, but rather contributed to the victory of his adversaries.

Thus the great mass of the people remained as before, thoroughly averse to all attempts to bring about the union. The Byzantine rulers, however, in their dire need, were obliged as a last resource to clutch at this hope of salvation, and accordingly had to face the deepest humiliations. When the unfortunate Emperor John V, after hastening to the papal court at Avignon to obtain assistance for Constantinople, was on his homeward journey, he was detained at Venice by creditors who had furnished the money for the journey. His son, Andronicus IV, who acted as regent at Constantinople, refused to advance the requisite amount. At last the younger son, Manuel II, then regent of Thessalonica, collected sufficient money to redeem his father (1370). Considering the wretched state of Byzantine affairs and the unfriendly spirit of the people, it was certainly generous that the West twice sent a considerable body of reinforcements to the Byzantines. Both expeditions, unfortunately, proved unsuccessful. In 1396 the Western Christians were defeated near Nicopolis by the Sultan Bayazid, and it was only the vigorous action of Marechal Boucicaut, who had been sent by the French, that saved Constantinople from conquest by the Turks. The final catastrophe was temporarily averted by an almost fortuitous event, the victory of Timur-Leng over the Turks near Angora (1402). This storm quickly passed over; but soon Constantinople was again on the verge of capture (1422). The Emperor John VIII (1425-48) once more attempted to effect a union. At Florence (1439) it was consummated, so far, at least, as the Florentine formula of union later served as a basis for the union with the Orthodox Ruthenian, Rumanians, and others.

Close upon the union followed another attempt to succour Constantinople. After some preliminary victories, however, defeat ensued near Varna, 1444. The quarrels of various pretenders to the throne and the lack of unity among those in power within the city precipitated the final catastrophe. On May 29, 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople, and seven years later (1460) the last remnant of the empire, the principalities on the Peloponnesus. Constantine XI, the last emperor, by his heroic death shed lustre on the last hours of the empire. Even the Western Christian may reflect with sadness on the downfall of this Christian empire, once so mighty. He will also trust in the ultimate victory of the Cross over the Crescent. But where is the strong hand capable of bringing so many nations and religions into ecclesiastical and political unity, which is the first requisite for cultural and industrial prosperity?


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