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A.A. Vasiliev
History of the Byzantine empire

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Successors of the Isaurians and the Phrygian Dynasty (820-67)


The emperors from 802 to 867 and their origin.

            The time from the beginning of the ninth century until the accession of the Macedonian dynasty in the year 867 has been viewed by historians as a transitional period from the epoch of the revival of the Empire under the Isaurian emperors to the brilliant time of the Macedonian emperors. But the most recent studies show that this period is not a mere epilogue and is much more than a prologue. It appears to have an importance of its own and signifies a new phase in Byzantine culture.[121]

            The revolution of the year 802 deposed Irene and raised Nicephorus I (802-11) to the Byzantine throne. According to oriental sources, Nicephorus was of Arabian origin.[122] One of his ancestors must have migrated into Pisidia, a province in Asia Minor, where Nicephorus was later born. The revolution of 802 was in its nature very rare in the annals of Byzantine history. An overwhelming majority of political uprisings in the Byzantine Empire were organized and led by military generals, leaders of the army. The case of Nicephorus was an exception to this general rule, for he was in no way connected with the army and held only the high post of minister of finance. This emperor fell in battle with the Bulgarians in the year 811, and the throne passed, for a few months, to his son Stauracius, who had also been severely wounded in the Bulgarian campaign. Stauracius died in the same year (811), but even before his death he was deposed in favor of the curopalates Michael I, a member of the Greek family of Rangabé, married to Procopia, a sister of the unfortunate Strauracius and a daughter of Nicephorus I. But Michael I also ruled only for a short period of time (811-13), for he was deposed, chiefly because of his unsuccessful campaign against the Bulgarians, by the military commander Leo, an Armenian by birth, known in history as Leo V the Armenian (813-20). In the year 820 Leo V was killed and the throne passed to one of the commanders of the guards, Michael II (820-29), surnamed the “Stammerer.” He came from the fortress of Amorion in Phrygia, a province of Asia Minor; hence his dynasty (820-67), represented by three rulers, is called the Amorian or Phrygian dynasty. He was a coarse and ignorant provincial who had spent his youth in Phrygia “among heretics, Hebrews, and half-hellenized Phrygians.”[123] One late Syrian source asserts even that he was a Jew by birth.[124] When he died the throne passed to his son, Theophilus (829-42), who was married to the famous restorer of orthodoxy, Theodora, from Paphlagonia in Asia Minor. The last member of this dynasty was their son, the corrupt and incapable Michael III (842-67), who has come down through the ages with the despicable surname of “Drunkard.”

            No Byzantine emperor has been so badly treated, both in Byzantine tradition and in later literature, as this Michael III “the Drunkard,” “a Byzantine Caligula.” His incredible frivolity, his persistent drunkenness, his horrible impiety and abominable scurrility have been many times described. Recently, however, H. Grégoire opened an especially vigorous campaign to restore Michael’s reputation. He pointed out many facts of Michael’s epoch, particularly the energetic and successful fighting against the eastern Arabs, and he declared that this last sovereign of the Amorian dynasty possessed the temperament of a genius and truly inaugurated the triumphant phase of Byzantine history (843-1025).[125] One cannot go quite so far as Grégoire in characterizing Michael as a genius; indeed, since he was assassinated at the age of twenty-eight, perhaps he did not live long enough to show the extent of his powers. While he possessed some highly undesirable qualities, it should be asserted that he had energy and initiative, and in addition — and this is probably more important — he managed to choose and keep near him talented and able advisers and executives. Grégoire has justly emphasized the deep impression left in popular tradition and popular songs by Michael’s successful military activities against the eastern Arabs. His victory in the north over the Russians in 860-61 left an equally deep trace.[126]

            During the minority of Michael III his mother Theodora was the official ruler of the Empire for fourteen years; she entrusted all government affairs to her favorite, Theoctistus. When Michael came of age he ordered that Theoctistus be killed, compelled his mother to take holy orders, and assumed the rule of the Empire. This drastic change was instigated and led chiefly by Bardas, uncle of the Emperor and brother of Theodora, who soon rose to the highest ranks of curopalates and Caesar, and became very influential in all government affairs. An Arab ambassador who had an audience with Michael has left an interesting picture of his complete indifference in state affairs. The ambassador wrote: “I did not hear a single word from his lips from the time of my arrival till my departure. The interpreter alone spoke, and the Emperor listened and expressed his assent or dissent by motions of his head. His uncle managed all his affairs.”[127] Highly gifted in many ways, Bardas successfully fought the enemies of the Empire and showed a clear understanding of the interests of the church. He honestly strove to spread more light and education among his people. But he, too, was treacherously killed through the intrigues of the new court favorite, Basil, the future founder of the Macedonian dynasty. After Bardasdeath Michael adopted Basil and crowned him with the imperial crown. Their joint rule lasted only a little over a year, for Basil, suspecting that Michael was plotting against him, persuaded some friends to kill his benefactor after one of the court feasts. Basil then became the sole ruler of the Empire and the founder of the most famous dynasty m Byzantine history.

            Thus during the period from 802 until 867 the throne was occupied by two Arabs or Semites; by one Greek, Michael I, married to the daughter of Nicephorus I, an Arabian; by one Armenian; and finally, by three Phrygians, or one might almost say, half-Greeks. It was the first time in Byzantine history that the Byzantine throne had fallen into the hands of the Semitic race. It is evident that during this period eastern elements played a very important part in the rule of the Empire.


External relations of the Byzantine Empire.


Arabs and Slavs and the insurrection of Thomas the Slavonian. — In the ninth century hostile relations between the Byzantine Empire and the Arabs were almost incessant. On the eastern land borderline these relations assumed the aspect of reiterated collisions which occurred with almost annual regularity and were accompanied by frequent exchanges of prisoners. On the Muhammedan side of the border a line of fortifications, intended as a defense against the attacks of the Byzantine army, was erected from Syria to the confines of Armenia. Similar fortified cities were to be found on the Byzantine side. All the fortifications formed a sort of limes in Asia Minor. Only in very few instances did the collisions along the eastern border in the ninth century assume the aspect of serious campaigns deep into the country. Parallel with the gradual political decline and weakening of the caliphate in the ninth century, which came as a result of serious internal disturbances and the predominance of Persians, and later of Turks, the continuous attacks of the Muslims upon the Byzantine Empire from the East ceased to threaten, as they did in the seventh and eighth centuries, the very existence of the Empire. These attacks continued, however, to bring great harm to the border provinces by injuring the prosperity of the population, by reducing their taxpaying ability, and by killing many of the inhabitants. The first thirty years of the ninth century were crowned by the reigns of the famous caliphs, Harun-ar-Rashid (786-809) and Mamun (813-33), under whom Persian influence enjoyed almost exclusive predominance and forced Arabian nationality into the background. In their political ideas the caliphs of the ninth century, particularly Mamun, resembled the Byzantine emperors in that they believed their authority to be unlimited in all phases of the life of their state.

            Although the Arabo-Byzantine collisions in the East, with very few exceptions, did not result in any serious consequences for either side, the operations of the Muslim fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, which led to the occupation of Crete, the greater part of Sicily, and a number of important points in southern Italy, were of exceedingly great significance.

            One of the interesting situations in the Arabo-Byzantine relations of the first half of the ninth century was the participation of the Arabs in the insurrection of Thomas during the reign of Michael II. This insurrection was organized in Asia Minor, by Thomas, a Slav by birth, and assumed the proportions of a grave civil war, which lasted for a period of over two years. It was the central event of the time of Michael II and is of much interest from the political and religious, as well as the social, point of view. Politically it was significant because Thomas succeeded in gaining over to his side all of Asia Minor excepting the troops of two themes. Under his standards, according to some sources, were gathered various nationalities of Asia Minor and the borderlands of the Caucasus. Besides his own kinsmen, the Slavs, who had formed some immense colonies in Asia Minor after their mass migrations from the European continent, the army of Thomas included Persians, Armenians, Iberians, and members of several other Caucasian tribes.[128] Thomas stood at the head of such a powerful force that Caliph Mamun did not hesitate to form a close alliance with him to aid him in deposing Michael, for which the Arabs were promised certain Byzantine border territories. With the consent of, or at the instance of, Mamun, Thomas was crowned at Antioch as basileus of the Romans by Job, the patriarch of the city, and the Byzantine Emperor had to face a very dangerous and formidable rival. The eastern Arabs were apparently greatly interested in the development of this insurgent movement.

            From the religious point of view the insurrection is very interesting because Thomas utilized the discontent of the large part of the population aroused by the renewed iconoclastic policy, and announced that he was an adherent of image-worship, claiming even to be Constantine, the son of Irene who had restored orthodoxy in an earlier period. This policy won over numerous supporters.

            Some social strife resulted from this movement. Thus, in Asia Minor the tax collectors sided with Thomas, and there was, according to one source, an uprising of “slaves against masters.”[129] The lower classes rose against their oppressors, the landowners, in a desire to build a better and brighter future for themselves. According to the same source, the ensuing civil war, “like some bursting cataracts of the Nile, flooded the earth, not with water, but with blood.”[130]

            Supported by the fleet in the Aegean Sea, Thomas directed his forces against Constantinople. On his way he easily overcame the resistance offered by Michael’s troops, and he besieged the capital both on land and on sea. When he arrived at the European shores the Slavs of Thrace and Macedonia joined his forces. The siege of Constantinople lasted a full year. Michael was very hard pressed, but he triumphed as a result of two events. On the one hand, he succeeded in defeating Thomasfleet; on the other, he was aided by the Bulgarians, who appeared unexpectedly in the north under the leadership of their king, Omurtag, and defeated the land forces of the insurgents. Thomas could not regain his former strength and was doomed to fail. He was forced to flee, and was later captured and executed; the remnants of his forces were easily destroyed. This complicated revolution, which lasted for more than two years, was completely extinguished in the year 823, and Michael could then feel fairly secure on his throne.[131]

            For the Byzantine Empire the outcome of this insurrection was of considerable importance. Its failure was also a failure to restore image-worship. The defeat of Thomas meant also the defeat of Caliph Mamun in his offensive projects against the Byzantine Empire. Furthermore, this uprising in all probability created very serious social changes in Asia Minor. In the sixth century under Justinian the Great the system of large landed estates cultivated by peasants in a servile condition flourished widely in the Empire. In sources of subsequent centuries there are some references to small holdings and small peasant landowners. In the tenth century, however, the predominance of large landownership reappeared once more, particularly in Asia Minor. This may have been a result of Thomasuprising, which undoubtedly caused the ruin of a large number of small landowners who were unable to meet the heavy government taxes and were thus forced to transfer their property to their wealthy neighbors. Whatever the cause, the reappearance of large estates in the tenth century began to threaten even the power of the Emperor. This was particularly true in Asia Minor.[132]

            Until the end of the thirties of the ninth century the Byzantine clashes with the Arabs had no serious consequences. At this time the caliphate was undergoing great internal disturbances, which were furthered at times through the skillful interference of the Byzantine government. The son of Michael II, Theophilus, was defeated in Asia Minor in 830, but in the following year (831) gained a victory in Cilicia over an Arab army of frontier troops and for his success received a brilliant triumph in Constantinople.[133] The ensuing years were not very successful for Theophilus. An Arab historian even says that Mamun looked forward to the entire subjugation of the Empire.[134] Theophilus sent Mamun an envoy bearing proposals of peace. But in 833 Mamun died and was succeeded by his brother Mutasim. During the first years of his rule there was a suspension of hostilities. In 837 Theophilus reopened an offensive which was extremely successful. He captured and burned the fortress of Zapetra and invaded some other places. He received for this success a triumph which was a repetition of the pageants and ceremonial which had attended his return six years before.[135] In 838, however, Mutasim equipped a large army which penetrated deep into Asia Minor and after a long siege occupied the important fortified city of Amorion in Phrygia, the birthplace of the ruling dynasty, “the eye and foundation of Christianity,” in the exaggerated words of the Arabian chronicle. Mutasim expected to march upon Constantinople after his successful occupation of Amorion, but he was forced to give up his plans and return to Syria when he received alarming news of a military conspiracy at home.[136]

            In the annals of the Greek Church the siege of Amorion is connected with the miraculous story of forty-two distinguished prisoner martyrs who, on their refusal to embrace Islam, were led to the banks of the Tigris and beheaded. Their bodies were thrown into the river, but miraculously floated on top of the water; they were then rescued from the river by some Christians and given solemn burial.[137]

            The disaster of Amorion made a very strong impression upon Theophilus. He lost all hope of effectively resisting the Arabian attacks with his own forces, and, fearing to lose the capital, he turned to the western states for help. His ambassadors appeared in Venice; in Ingelheim at the court of the Frankish king, Lewis the Pious; and even in the far west, in Spain, at the Court of the Umayyad emir. The western rulers all received the ambassadors in a friendly manner, yet they gave Theophilus no active assistance.

            During the remaining period of the Amorian dynasty, in the later years of Theophilusreign and the reign of Michael III, internal strife within the caliphate prevented the eastern Arabs from renewing serious campaigns against the Byzantine Empire. Indeed, on several occasions Byzantine troops succeeded in defeating the Arabs. In the year 863 Omar, the emir (governor) of Melitene, sacked the Byzantine city of Amisus (Samsun) on the shore of the Black Sea, and, infuriated by the fact that the sea put a bound to his further advance, he was said, like Xerxes, to have scourged the water. But in the same year, on his return, he was intercepted and surrounded by Byzantine troops under the command of Petronas. The battle of Poson took place (the location of this has not been identified with any exactness) and the Arab forces were almost annihilated and Omar himself was slain.[138] This brilliant victory of Byzantine arms resounded in the Hippodrome in Constantinople, and a special chant, which has been preserved in the sources, celebrated the death of the emir on the field of battle.[139]


The first Russian attack on Constantinople.

Amid these annual conflicts with the Arabs, the sources suddenly began to speak of the first attack of the “Ros,” or the Russians, upon Constantinople. Until comparatively recent times this event was referred by the great majority of historians to the year 865 or 866, and it was frequently connected with the campaign of the Russian princes, Ascold and Dir. But since 1894, when a short anonymous chronicle found in Brussels was published by the Belgian scholar, Franz Cumont, this opinion has been recognized as erroneous. This chronicle gives very exact information: the Russians approached Constantinople in two hundred vessels on the eighteenth of June of the year 860, but were heavily defeated and lost many of their ships.[140] Some scholars were doubtful about the earlier dating of this event long before the publication of the anonymous chronicle, and on the basis of various chronological calculations were inclined to believe that 860 was the correct date. Thus, the famous Italian scholar of the eighteenth century, Assemani, set the date of this first attack of the Russians at the end of 859 or early in 860, although later scholars completely forgot the result of his investigation.[141] Fourteen years before the appearance of the anonymous chronicle of Brussels, and entirely independent of Assemani, the Russian church historian, Golubinsky, also arrived at the conclusion that this attack took place either in 860 or at the very beginning of 861.[142]

            In one of his sermons, Patriarch Photius, a contemporary of this event, referred to the Russians as the “Scythian, coarse and barbarian people,” and to their attack as a “barbarous, obstinate, and formidable sea,” a “terrible northern storm.”[143]

Struggles with the western Arabs. — At the same time as the eastern military operations, the Empire was also struggling with the western Arabs. North Africa, conquered by the Arabs with so much difficulty in the seventh century, soon freed itself from the domination of the eastern caliphs, so that after the year 800 the Abbasid caliphs ceased to exercise any authority in the provinces west of Egypt, and an independent Aghlabid dynasty, which possessed a powerful fleet, rose in Tunis in the early part of the ninth century (in 800).

            All the Byzantine possessions in the Mediterranean Sea were seriously menaced by the Arabs during this period. Even in the early part of the ninth century, in the time of Nicephorus I, the African Arabs aided the Peloponnesian Slavs in their uprising and the siege of the city of Patrae (Patras). During the reign of Michael II the Byzantine Empire lost the strategically and commercially important island of Crete, which was captured by Arabian emigrants from Spain, who had first sought shelter in Egypt and then advanced to Crete. The leader of these Arabs founded a new city on this island and surrounded it by a deep moat, handak in Arabic, from which the new name of the island, Chandax, or Candia, originated.[144] From then on Crete became the nest of piratical bands which raided and devastated the islands of the Aegean Sea and the seacoast districts, causing thus great political and economic disturbances in the Byzantine Empire.

            Still more serious for the Byzantine Empire was the loss of Sicily. As early as the seventh and eighth centuries this island had become subject to Arabian attacks, although these were not very serious. But in the time of the Amorian dynasty conditions changed. At the end of the reign of Michael II a man named Euphemius organized an uprising against the Emperor and was later proclaimed the ruler of the Empire. He soon realized that his own forces were not sufficient to resist the imperial troops, and appealed for aid to the African Arabs. The latter arrived in Sicily; but instead of aiding Euphemius, they began the conquest of the island, and Euphemius was killed by adherents of the Emperor.[145] In the opinion of an Italian historian, Gabotto, Euphemius was a dreamer, an idealist, a valiant fighter for the independence of his country, and a continuator of the traditional policy of creating in Italy an independent state, “the Roman Italian Empire” (Impero romano italiano). Gabotto’s characterization of Euphemius, however, is not confirmed by the evidence.[146] The Arabs became established in Panormos (Palermo) and gradually occupied the greater part of Sicily, including Messina, so that by the end of the reign of the Amorian dynasty, of all the large Sicilian cities, only Syracuse remained in the hands of the Christians. From Sicily the most natural step for the Arabs was to advance into the Byzantine territories in southern Italy.

            The Apennine peninsula has at its southern extremity two small peninsulas: the one in the southeast was known in antiquity as Calabria, and the other in the southwest as Bruttium. In the Byzantine period a change occurred in these names. From the middle of the seventh century Bruttium was used less and less frequently, and became gradually replaced by the name of Calabria, which thus began to be applied to both small peninsulas; in other words, Calabria then signified all of the Byzantine possessions in southern Italy around the Gulf of Tarentum.[147]

            The political position in Italy in the ninth century appears as follows: The Byzantine Empire retained Venice, the greater part of Campania, with the Duchy of Naples and two other duchies, as well as the two small southern peninsulas. Venice and Campania were only slightly politically dependent upon the Byzantine Empire, for they had an autonomous government of their own. The south of Italy was directly subject to the Empire. The greater part of Italy was in the hands of the Lombards. At the end of the seventh century the Lombard Duke of Beneventum won Tarentum from the Byzantine Empire; thus he reached as far as the shores of the Gulf itself and separated the two Byzantine districts from one another so that after this conquest the two smaller peninsulas could communicate only by sea. After the Italian conquests of Charles the Great and his imperial coronation in Rome the entire Apennine peninsula, except the Byzantine territories, was formally placed under the authority of the western Emperor; in reality, however, his power in the south did not reach any further than the borders of the papal state and the Duchy of Spoleto. The Duchy of Beneventum remained an independent state.

            Contemporary with the gradual conquest of Sicily, the Arabian fleet also began to raid the Italian shores. The occupation of Tarentum in the time of Theophilus was a grave and direct menace to the Byzantine provinces in southern Italy. The Venetian fleet which came to the aid of the Emperor in the Gulf of Tarentum suffered a heavy defeat. Meanwhile the Arabs occupied the important fortified city of Bari on the eastern shore of the peninsula, and from there directed their conquests of the inner Italian districts. The western emperor, Lewis II, came there with his army, but was defeated and forced to retreat. At the same time, in the forties of the ninth century, Arabian pirates appeared at the mouth of the Tiber and threatened Rome, but upon capturing rich spoils, they departed from the old capital. The Roman basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, situated outside the city walls of Rome, were damaged greatly during this attack.

            In summary, the Arabo-Byzanrine contacts during the period of the Amorian dynasty resulted in failure in the West for the Byzantine Empire. Crete and Sicily were lost; the former only until 961, the latter forever. A number of important points in southern Italy also passed into the hands of the Arabs, although by the middle of the ninth century these did not form a large continuous territory. The results of the struggle with the Arabs along the eastern border were very different. Here the Empire succeeded in keeping its territories almost intact. The few insignificant changes along this border had no bearing upon the general course of events. In this respect the efforts of the Amorian dynasty were of much importance to the Empire, because for a period of forty-seven years the emperors of this line were able to withstand the aggressive operations of the eastern Arabs and preserve, on the whole, the integrity of Byzantine territory in Asia Minor.


The Byzantine Empire and the Bulgarians in the epoch of the Amorian Dynasty. — At the beginning of the ninth century the Bulgarian throne was occupied by Krum, an able warrior and wise organizer, who proved to be extremely dangerous to the Byzantine Empire. Nicephorus, having sensed in him a powerful enemy capable of gaining over to his side the Slavonic population of Macedonia and Thessaly, transferred many colonists from other parts of the Empire to these two provinces. By this measure, which, according to one source, aroused much dissatisfaction among the emigrants, the Emperor hoped to avert the danger of an alliance between the Bulgarians and the Slavs of the before named provinces.[148]

            In the year 811, after several clashes with the Bulgarians, Nicephorus undertook a large expedition against Krum, during which he was lured with his army into ambush and defeated very severely. Nicephorus himself fell in battle, his son Stauracius was seriously wounded, and the army was almost completely annihilated. Since the famous battle near Hadrianople in the year 378, during which Valens had been killed on the field of action against the Visigoths, there had been no other instance before Nicephorus of the death of an emperor in battle with the barbarians. Krum made a bowl out of the skull of the dead emperor and the “Bulgarian boliads” (nobles)[149] were forced to drink from it.

            In 813 Krum also defeated Michael I, who advanced against him at the head of an army so powerful that even the Asiatic forces had been withdrawn from the eastern frontier to strengthen it. But the numerical superiority of the Byzantine troops was of no avail; they were decisively beaten and put to a flight that was arrested only when they reached the walls of Constantinople. In the same year, soon after the rise of Leo V the Armenian to the Byzantine throne, Krum carried the offensive to Constantinople, besieging the city in order “to fix his lance on the Golden Gate” (the walls of Constantinople), as one source put it.[150] Here, however, his successful progress was checked. He died suddenly, affording the Empire a temporary respite from the Bulgarian menace.[151]

            One of the immediate successors of Krum, Omurtag, “one of the most eminent figures in the early history of Bulgaria,”[152] in the time of Leo V concluded with the Byzantine Empire a peace agreement to last for thirty years. The agreement dealt mainly with the problem of defining the border lines between the two states in the province of Thrace. Traces of these lines can be seen even today in the shape of some remains of earthen fences.[153] After peace was definitely concluded with the Bulgarians, Leo V reconstructed some of the ruined cities of Thrace and Macedonia. He also erected a stronger new wall around the capital for a surer defense against possible future Bulgarian attacks.

            Later Bulgaro-Byzantine relations were not marked by any outstanding events until the early fifties of the ninth century, when the Bulgarian throne passed into the hands of Boris (Bogoris; 852-889), whose name is closely connected with the accounts of the conversion of the Bulgarians to Christianity.

            The Christian faith had found its way into Bulgaria long before the time of Boris, primarily through the Byzantine captives taken by the Bulgarians during their battles with the imperial troops. The pagan Bulgarian khans severely persecuted “the perverted and the perverters.” Th. I. Uspensky asserted that “there is no doubt that Christianity began to spread in Bulgaria very early. Even as early as the eighth century there were a number of Christians in the palaces of the princes. The struggles between the Christian and pagan parties were responsible for many of the troubled events in Bulgarian history, as well as for the frequent change of khans.”[154]

            The conversion of Boris to Christianity was prompted by the political situation in Bulgaria, which forced him to seek closer relations with the Byzantine Empire. Greek clergy came to Bulgaria to spread Christianity among the natives. About the year 864 King Boris was baptized and assumed the name of Michael, and soon after, his people also adopted Christianity. The story that the two famous Slavonic missionaries, the brothers St. Cyril and St. Methodius, participated directly in the baptism of Boris is not confirmed by authentic evidence. The fact that Bulgarians received baptism from the hands of the Byzantine clergy did much to increase the prestige and influence of the Byzantine Empire in the Balkan peninsula. Boris, however, soon realized that the Empire was not willing to grant the Bulgarian church complete independence. He wished to keep the right of guiding the spiritual life of Bulgaria, and he feared also that his kingdom might become politically dependent upon the Byzantine Empire. Boris decided to form an ecclesiastical alliance with Rome. He sent a delegation to Pope Nicholas I asking him to send Latin priests to Bulgaria. The pope was very glad to comply with this request, Latin bishops and priests soon came to Bulgaria, and the Greek clergy was driven out. The pope’s triumph was short-lived, however, for Bulgaria soon turned again to the Greek church, but this event occurred later, in the time of the Macedonian dynasty.[155]

            While the relations between Constantinople and Rome were very strained at the time of the religious waverings of Boris, still there was no open breach in the church. The requests sent by Boris to the Greek and Latin clergy did not signify a choice of either Orthodoxy or Catholicism. Officially the church of this period was still a single universal church.


The restoration of Orthodoxy. The separation of churches in the ninth century.

            The first emperors of the period 802-67 were not iconoclastic in their policies, and it seemed almost that image-worship, restored by Irene, might gradually grow stronger and not become subject to new trials. The policy of Nicephorus was one of religious tolerance combined with the idea of temporal domination over the church. Although he recognized the decisions of the Council of Nicaea and the victory of the image-worshipers, he was not an ardent follower of the latter movement. To the true zealots of image-worship the tolerant policy of Nicephorus seemed as bad as heresy. It is very probable that religious questions interested the Emperor very little. They mattered only in so far as they concerned the state. Yet monasticism experienced some anxious moments in the time of Nicephorus, especially when the highly respected Patriarch Tarasius, beloved by all his people, was replaced by the new Patriarch Nicephorus, who was raised to his high rank by the will of the Emperor directly from among laymen. This election was strongly opposed by the famous Theodore of Studion and his followers, the Studites, who were later sent into exile.

            Michael I Rangabé ruled only for a short period (811-13) and was under the constant influence of the patriarch and the monks. He was an obedient son of the church and defender of its interests. During his reign Theodore and the Studites were recalled from exile.

            A quarter of a century had elapsed since the time Irene had restored image-worship, but the iconoclastic movement was still alive in the eastern provinces of Asia Minor and in the ranks of the army. In 813, Leo, a military chief of Armenian birth, assumed the imperial title. In the time of his predecessors Leo enjoyed great authority as a gifted general and was careful to conceal his iconoclastic views; but as soon as he deposed Michael Rangabé and strengthened his own position on the throne he began to advance openly an iconoclastic policy. One source credits the Emperor with these words: “You see that all emperors who had accepted images and worshiped them died either in exile or in battle. Only those who had not adored images died a natural death while they still bore their imperial rank. These emperors were all placed in imperial sepulchers with high honors and buried in the temple of the Apostles. I want to follow their example and destroy images, so that, after my long life and the life of my son are over, our rule shall continue until the fourth and fifth generation.”[156]

            The iconoclastic measures of Leo V were vehemently opposed by Patriarch Nicephorus, who was later deposed by the Emperor. The rank of archbishop of Constantinople was conferred upon Theodotus, who was in complete agreement with Leo’s religious policy. In the year 815 a second iconoclastic council was gathered in the temple of St. Sophia in Constantinople. The acts of this council were destroyed after the restoration of icon worship, but its decree has been preserved in one of the apologetic works of Patriarch Nicephorus, and has been published.[157]

            “Having established and confirmed the divinely accepted doctrine of the Holy Fathers and in accordance with the six Holy Ecumenical Councils,” this councilcondemned the unprofitable practice, unwarranted by tradition, of making and adoring images, preferring worship in spirit and truth.” The decree further indicated that with the change of masculine rule to feminine (Irene), “female simplicityrestored the adoration of “dead figures” and “lifeless icons,” the lighting of candles and burning of incense. The council prohibited “the unauthorized manufacture of pseudonymous icons of the catholic church,” rejected the adoration of images as confirmed by Patriarch Tarasius, and condemned the lighting of candles and lamps, as well as the offering of incense before images. Essentially this decree was a repetition of the basic ideas of the iconoclastic council of 754, whose acts it confirmed. The council stated that it was prohibited to adore images and useless to produce them. Since this councilabstained from calling images idols, because there are degrees of evil,”[158] it has sometimes been regarded as more tolerant than the first iconoclastic council. But the opinion has recently been advanced that the second iconoclastic movement, particularly under Leo V and Theophilus, was neither more moderate nor more tolerant than that under Leo III and Constantine V, but “only spiritually poorer.”[159]

            The iconoclastic emperors of the second period, Leo V the Armenian, Michael II the Stammerer, and Theophilus, had to carry out their religious policy under conditions which differed greatly from those which had prevailed in the first period. The second period lasted only for about thirty years (815-43), and was thus much shorter than the first period which had lasted for more than fifty years. The iconoclasts of the first period took the iconodules, so to say, unawares. The latter were not sufficiently organized nor prepared for the struggle. The ruthless measures against images forced them to unite their ranks, strengthen their faith, develop methods of fighting, and collect all their dogmatic and polemic materials. The iconoclasts of the second period, therefore, met a much stronger resistance than had their predecessors. The struggle became more difficult for them. Especially strong was the opposition advanced by the abbot of the monastery of Studion, Theodore, and his followers, the Studites, convinced defenders of image-worship, who exerted a great influence upon the mass of the people. Furthermore, Theodore openly wrote and spoke against the intervention of imperial power in the affairs of the church and defended the principles of church independence and freedom of conscience. Angered by Theodore’s attitude and activity, the Emperor sent him into distant exile and banished many of his followers.

            According to the surviving sources, which are almost without exception hostile to the iconoclasts, the persecution of images and their worshipers was very severe in the time of Leo V. These sources name martyrs who suffered in this period. On the other hand, even the most vehement opponents of Leo V acknowledge that he was very efficient and skillful in defending the Empire and wise in his administrative measures. According to one historian, Patriarch Nicephorus, deposed by Leo, “said after Leo’s death that the state of the Romans lost a very great, though impious, ruler.”[160] Still other contemporaries called Leo “the creeping snake,” and compared his time with “winter and a thick fog.”[161]

            Opinions vary regarding the religious views of Leo’s successor, Michael II. While some historians consider him neutral and indifferent, and a man who “followed the path of tolerance and proclaimed the great principles of freedom of conscience,”[162] others call him a “convinced iconoclast, though not a fanatic,” “determined to support Leo’s iconoclastic reforms because they harmonized with his personal convictions, refusing at the same time to continue the further persecution of image-worship.”[163] A recent investigator believed that Michael’s “political program consisted of an attempt to pacify all religious disputes even though this involved an enforced silence on debatable questions and a tolerant attitude toward each of the dissenting elements.”[164]

However, in spite of his iconoclastic tendencies, Michael did not initiate another period of persecution of image-worshipers, although when Methodius, who later became the patriarch of Constantinople, delivered the papal letter to the Emperor and called upon him to restore icon worship, he was subjected to a cruel scourging and was imprisoned in a tomb. In comparing the time of Leo V with the reign of Michael II contemporaries used such phrases as “the fire has gone out, but it is still smoking,” “like a crawling snake the tail of heresy has not yet been killed and is still wriggling,” “the winter is over, but real spring has not yet arrived,” etc.[165] The death of the famous defender of images and church freedom, Theodore of Studion, took place in the time of Michael II.

            Theophilus, the successor of Michael II and the last iconoclastic emperor, was a man well versed in theological matters, distinguished by his fervent adoration of the Virgin and the saints, and the author of several church songs. Historical opinions of Theophilus are extremely contradictory, ranging all the way from the most damnatory to the most eulogistic statements. With regard to iconoclasm, the reign of Theophilus was the harshest time of the second period of the movement. The Emperor’s main adviser and leader in iconoclastic matters was John the Grammarian, later patriarch of Constantinople, the most enlightened man of that period, who was accused, as was frequently the case with learned men in the Middle Ages, of practicing sorcery and magic. The monks, many of whom were icon-painters, were subject to severe punishments. For example, the palms of the monk Lazarus, an image-painter, were burned with red-hot iron; for their zealous defense of images the two brothers Theophanes and Theodore were flogged and branded on their foreheads with certain insulting Greek verses composed by Theophilus himself for the purpose, and hence they were surnamed the “marked” (graptoi).

            And yet a more critical examination of the surviving sources on Theophilus might force historians to forsake the claim that persecutions were excessively severe in his time. The facts giving evidence of cruel treatment of iconodules are few. Bury believed that the religious persecutions of Theophilus did not go beyond a certain geographical boundary, for the Emperor insisted upon the destruction of images only in the capital and its immediate environs. Bury was also of the opinion that during the entire second period of iconoclasm image-worship flourished in Greece and on the islands and coasts of Asia Minor. This fact has not been fully appreciated by historians. The English scholar believed also that only in a few exceptional cases did the Emperor resort to severe punishments.[166] Much still remains to be done for a correct historical estimate of the second period of the iconoclastic movement.

            Theodora, the wife of Theophilus, was a zealous adherent of image-worship, and her religious tendencies were well known to her husband. When Theophilus died in 842, Theodora became the official ruler of the Empire because of the minority of her son Michael. Her first problem was to restore image-worship. Apparently the opposition of the iconoclasts was not as strong in 842 as it had been in the time of Irene, the first restorer of image-worship, for it took Theodora only a little more than one year to convoke a council to confirm her religious tendencies, while Irene had to spend seven years in the same task. John the Grammarian was deposed from the patriarchal throne and the see of Constantinople was given to Methodius, who had suffered much in the time of Michael. The acts of the council convoked by Theodora have not been preserved, but other sources show that they confirmed the canons of the Council of Nicaea and restored image-worship. When the council finished its work, solemn service was performed in the temple of St. Sophia on the first Sunday in Lent, on the eleventh day of March, 843 A.D. This day is still solemnized as the feast of orthodoxy in the Greek Orthodox church. Until very recent times the year 842 was generally recognized as the correct date of the restoration of images.[167]

            In the Near East the second period of iconoclasm was marked by the publication of a joint letter to protect images under the names of the three eastern patriarchs of the ninth century, Christopher of Alexandria, Job of Antioch, and Basil of Jerusalem.

            In summary: The iconoclastic party drew its forces mainly from the court party and the army, including its leading generals, among whom some succeeded in attaining the high imperial rank, as did Leo III, Leo V, and Michael II. The iconoclastic tendencies of the army are attributed by some scholars to the fact that the greatest number of soldiers was drafted from among the eastern nationalities, mainly the Armenians, who had been transferred by the government in large numbers to the western provinces, mostly to Thrace. Hence the majority of the army was iconoclastic by conviction. According to one scholar, “the Orthodox cult impressed the eastern soldiers as an alien religion, and they felt justified in using any kind of violence against those whom they called idolaters.”[168] As to the court party and the higher clergy, it may be said that the government officials and a number of bishops did not follow the dictates of their convictions, but professed views in accordance with their fears and ambitions. The population of Constantinople and the great majority of the clergy favored image-worship. The iconoclastic emperors were both gifted warriors and wise administrators, victorious over the Arabs and Bulgarians, and some of them may even be credited with having saved Christianity and the rising western civilization; but they did not persecute images in the name of their political aims and ambitions. Their religious measures were prompted rather by a sincere conviction that they were working toward improvement in the church and the purification of Christianity. The religious reforms of these emperors were at times even detrimental to the accomplishments of their wise political activities. The fight with the iconodules introduced great internal disturbances and weakened the political strength of the Empire. It also led to a rupture with the western church and the gradual separation of Italy from the Byzantine Empire. Only the policy pursued by the iconoclastic emperors toward the monks and monasteries is to be explained by political motives. It is very difficult to form a detailed judgment about the theological doctrine of the iconoclasts because almost all the literature pertaining to the problems of iconoclastic dogma was destroyed by the iconodules. Even among the iconoclasts there were men of moderate, as well as of extremely radical, tendencies. Image-painting was looked upon as a potential cause of two possible dangers: the return to paganism, or the return to one of the heresies condemned by the ecumenical councils. In connection with the second period of the iconoclastic movement it is important to emphasize that while in the eighth century the Isaurians were always supported by the eastern provinces of Asia Minor this was not true in the ninth century. During the second period of iconoclasmenthusiasm for iconoclastic ideas absolutely weakens; the movement was already spiritually exhausted.”[169]

            The iconodule party was composed of the population of the western provinces, Italy and Greece, all the monks and the greater part of the clergy, the majority of the inhabitants of Constantinople, although they were at times forced by circumstances to feign that they were supporting iconoclasm, and finally, the population of several other sections of the Empire, such as the islands of the Aegean and some of the coast provinces of Asia Minor. The theological doctrine of the image-worshipers, as developed by such leaders as John Damascene and Theodore of Studion, was based on the Holy Scriptures. They considered images not only a means of enlightening the people but believed also that by preserving the holiness and merits of their prototypesChrist, the Virgin, and the saints — the icons possessed miraculous power.

            The iconoclastic epoch has left deep traces in the artistic life of the period. Numerous beautiful monuments of art, mosaics, frescoes, statues, and miniatures were destroyed during the struggle waged upon images. The richly decorated walls of temples were either plastered over or newly ornamented. “Briefly,” said N. P. Kondakov, “the church life of the capital became subject to that protestant desolation which was destined to displace, sooner or later, all the artistic life of Byzantium … A large number of educated and wealthy people migrated with their families to Italy; thousands of monks founded numerous cave habitations and hermitages throughout the vast territory of southern Italy, Asia Minor and Cappadocia, which were painted by Greek artists. Hence Greek art and iconography of the eighth and ninth centuries must be sought outside of the Byzantine Empire: in Asia Minor or in southern and middle Italy.”[170] But parallel with the destruction of artistic monuments bearing the images of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints, the iconoclasts began to create a new type of art by turning to new subjects. They introduced ornament and began to present genre scenes, such as pictures of the chase, the Hippodrome, trees, birds, and beasts. Some remarkable works of art in ivory, enamels, and a number of interesting miniatures have also come down from the time of the iconoclastic movement. In general the artistic tendencies of the iconoclasts are viewed by art historians as a return to the classical traditions of Alexandria and a very significant tendency toward realism and the study of nature.[171] One important outcome of the iconoclastic epoch was the disappearance of sculptural representations of holy persons or sacred scenes from the eastern church. Officially, neither the church nor the state prohibited these images; hence they apparently disappeared of their own accord. This is viewed by some historians as a partial victory for the iconoclasts over the extreme icon-worshipers.[172]

            Iconoclastic influences were reflected also on Byzantine coins and seals. An entirely new coin and seal type developed under the sway of iconoclastic ideas in the eighth century. The new coins and seals sometimes bore only legends without any images of Christ, the Holy Virgin, or the saints; a cross or a cruciform monogram was sometimes used. On the whole, the type on the coins was confined almost exclusively to representations of the cross and the imperial family. Human portraiture fares hardly better than the sacred images of the precedent times: it is conventional throughout.[173] Later, when image-worship was restored, images of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints again appeared on the coins and seals.

            Iconoclasm alienated Italy and the papacy from the Empire and was one of the main causes for the final breach in the church in the ninth century. The coronation of Charles the Great in 800 brought about still greater estrangement between the pope and the Byzantine Empire. The final rupture took place in the second half of the ninth century in the reign of Michael III, during the rise of the famous case of Photius and Ignatius in Constantinople.

            Ignatius, widely known in his time for his zeal in defending image-worship, was deposed from the patriarchal throne and his high rank was conferred upon Photius, a layman, the most learned man of the period. Two parties formed then in the Byzantine Empire; one sided with Photius, the other with Ignatius, who refused to give up his title voluntarily. They continually anathematized each other and their heated disputes finally forced Michael III to convoke a council. Pope Nicholas I, who sided with Ignatius, was also invited to attend, but he sent only his legates. The latter, under the influence of bribes and threats and against the wish of the pope, confirmed the deposition of Ignatius and the election of Photius as patriarch of Constantinople. In opposition to this decision Pope Nicholas convoked a council in Rome which anathematized Photius and reinstated Ignatius. Michael paid no attention to the proclamation of this Roman council, and in a sharp note to the Pope stated that the church of Constantinople repudiated his claims to the leadership of the universal church. This incident came at the time of the conversion of the Bulgarian king, Boris, to Christianity, in which the interests of Constantinople and Rome clashed seriously, as we have pointed out elsewhere. In the year 867 (the year of Michael’s death) another council was convoked at Constantinople which condemned and anathematized the pope for his heretical doctrine in adding the filioque to the Christian creed, and also for his illegal intervention in the affairs of the church of Constantinople. The pope and the patriarch in their turn anathematized each other, and thus occurred the split in the church. With the death of Michael III the state of affairs changed. The new Emperor, Basil I, began his reign by deposing Photius and reinstating Ignatius.[173a]



Literature, learning, and art.

A movement so profound, complex, and intense as iconoclasm was bound to arouse wide literary activity. Unfortunately, however, the literature of the iconoclasts was destroyed almost completely by the triumphant image-worshipers, and is known today only by scanty fragments preserved in the works of the opponents of iconoclasm, who cited them for the purpose of refutation. It may be said, then, that practically all the surviving literary works of the iconoclastic period represent only one point of view.

            Like the preceding period of the Heraclian dynasty, the iconoclastic epoch had no historians, though the chroniclers of this period have left numerous works, helpful to a correct understanding of Byzantine chronography and its sources and also highly valuable for the study of the iconoclastic period itself. George Syncellus,[174] who died in the early part of the ninth century, left a Chronography from the creation of the universe to the reign of Diocletian (284 A.D.), which he wrote during his stay in a monastery. While this work does not throw any light on the iconoclastic period, for the author did not deal with contemporary events, it is of considerable value for the elucidation of some problems of earlier Greek chronography, whose works George used as sources.

            At the instance of George Syncellus his chronicle was continued in the early part of the same century by his friend, Theophanes the Confessor, whose influence as a chronicler upon the literature of subsequent periods was very great. He was a vehement enemy of the iconoclasts in the second period of the movement. He was submitted by Leo V the Armenian to an inquest, and after being confined in jail for some time, was exiled to one of the islands of the Aegean Sea, where he died in the year 817. The chronicle of Theophanes deals with the period from the reign of Diocletian, where George Syncellus left off his record of events, up to the fall of Emperor Michael I Rangabé, in the year 813. In spite of the clearly expressed eastern-orthodox point of view, very apparent in his analysis of historical events and personalities, and in spite of the biased nature of the account, the work of Theophanes is very valuable, not only because of its rich material from earlier sources, some of which have not been preserved but also because, as a contemporary source on the iconoclastic movement, it devotes more space to it than was usual with other Byzantine chroniclers. The work of Theophanes was the favorite source of subsequent chroniclers. The Latin translation of his chronicle, made by the papal librarian, Anastasius, in the second half of the ninth century, was of the same value to the medieval chronography of the West as the Greek original was for the East.[175]

            Another significant writer of this period was Nicephorus, patriarch of Constantinople in the early part of the ninth century. For his bold opposition to iconoclasm in the time of Leo V the Armenian, he was deposed and exiled. In his theological works, of which some are still unpublished, Nicephorus defends with a remarkable power based on deep conviction the correctness of the iconodulist views. He refutes the arguments of the iconoclasts chiefly in his threeRefutations of the Ignorant and Godless Nonsense of the Impious Mammon [the name he applied to Constantine V] against the Salutary Incarnation of the Word of God.”[176] From the historical point of view, his Brief History, which narrates events from the death of Emperor Maurice in the year 602 until the year 769, is of considerable value. In spite of the fact that in attempting to make this work a popular account suitable for a wider circle of readers, Nicephorus gave it a somewhat didactic character, it still remains a source of importance, since it contains many interesting facts regarding the political and church history of the period. The very striking similarity of this History and the work of Theophanes may be explained by the fact that both used one common source.[177]

            Finally, George the Monk (Monachus) Hamartolus, also a convinced enemy of the iconoclasts, left a universal chronicle from Adam to the death of Emperor Theophilus in 842 A.D., in other words, until the final victory of image-worship. This work is of much value for the cultural history of the period because it contains many discussions of problems which preoccupied the Byzantine monastics of that period, namely, the nature of monasticism itself, the spread of iconoclastic heresy, and the spread of the Saracen faith. It also gives a vivid picture of the aspirations and tastes of the Byzantine monasteries of the ninth century. The chronicle of Hamartolus formed the basis for later Byzantine arrangements of universal history, and exerted enormous influence upon the early pages of Slavonic literatures, particularly the Russian. Suffice it to say that the beginning of Russian chronicles is very closely connected with the work of Hamartolus. A manuscript of the old Slavo-Russian translation of Hamartolus contains 127 miniatures, which have not yet been thoroughly studied and appreciated, but which are of greatest importance for the history of the Russian and Byzantine art of the thirteenth century. This manuscript is the only illustrated copy of the Chronicle of Hamartolus that has come down to us.[178] With the exception of one anonymous writer on Emperor Leo V the Armenian,[179] Hamartolus is the only contemporary chronicler of the period from 813 to 842. He dealt with this period from a narrow monastic point of view, using mostly oral accounts of contemporaries and personal observations. The manuscript tradition of Hamartoluswork, which was changed and enlarged many times in later centuries, has survived in such a complicated and entangled form that the question of his authentic original text forms one of the most difficult problems of Byzantine philology. It was only in the early part of the twentieth century that a critical edition of the Greek text of Hamartolus was published.[180] Recently there appeared a critical edition of the old Slavo-Russian translation of the chronicle of Hamartolus, supplemented by the Greek text of the continuation of this chronicle which formed the basis of the Slavonic translation.[181]

            Iconoclastic literature was almost completely destroyed by the triumphant image-worshipers; yet part of the detailed acts of the iconoclastic council of the year 754 have survived in the acts of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Fragments of an extensive work against icon worship written by Constantine V Copronymus have been preserved in the three Refutations of Patriarch Nicephorus. This emperor was also the author of some other literary works.[182] Leo V ordered the compilation of a general work favorable to iconoclasm and based on the Bible and the church fathers, and a similar project was proposed at the iconoclastic council of the year 754; neither of these works has survived. A number of iconoclastic poems have been preserved in the works of Theodore of Studion. The Seventh Ecumenical Council decreed that all iconoclastic literature should be destroyed, and its ninth canon reads as follows: “All the childish plays, the raging mockeries and false writings directed against the honored icons must be presented to the episcopate of Constantinople and; there added to all other books of heretics. Anyone found guilty of hiding these works if bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, will be deposed; if monk or layman, will be excommunicated.”[183]

            An enormous amount of literary material dealing with the defense of image-worship and highly important in its influence upon writings of later periods has been left by a man who spent all his life in a province which no longer formed part of the Empire. His name is John Damascene, a native of Syria, which was then under Arabian domination. He was minister of the caliph in Damascus and died about 750 A.D. in the famous Palestinian Laura of St. Sabas. John has left many works in the fields of dogmatics, polemics, history, philosophy, oratory, and poetry. His principal work is The Source of Knowledge, the third part of which, entitled “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” was an attempt at a systematic presentation of the main foundations of the Christian faith and Christian dogmatics. Through this exposition John placed in the hands of the image-worshipers a powerful weapon for their struggle with their opponents, a weapon they had lacked in the early part of the iconoclastic movement. Later, in the thirteenth century, this work was used by the famous father of the western church, Thomas Aquinas, as a model for his Summa Theologiae. Among the polemic works of John Damascene we must point out three treatises “against those who depreciate holy images,” where the author firmly and boldly defends image-worship. In ecclesiastical literature John is particularly famous for his church hymns, which are somewhat more intricate in form than the church songs of Romanus the Hymnwriter (Melode), although in depth of poetical force and profound doctrine they are among the best of the hymns of the Christian church. John was also the author of many beautiful canons for festivals of the Lord, about the Holy Virgin, or in honor of prophets, apostles, and martyrs. Especially solemn is his Easter service, whose chants express the deep joy of believers because of Christ’s victory over death and hell. Under John’s pen, church hymns reached the highest point of their development and beauty. After him there were no remarkable writers in the field of Byzantine church poetry.[184]

            The name of John Damascene is also closely connected with the romance Barlaam and Josaphat, which enjoyed the widest popularity in all languages throughout the Middle Ages. No doubt the plot of the tale was derived from the well-known legend of Buddha. It is highly probable that the story was simply a version of the life of Buddha adopted by the Christians of the East for their own use; the author himself said that the story was brought to him from India. Throughout the Middle Ages, down to recent times, the romance was almost universally attributed to John Damascene, but in 1886 the French orientalist, H. Zotenberg, advanced some proofs that John could not have been the author, and many writers have accepted his conclusions.[185] But in recent years writers on this subject are less decided, and lean more toward the older point of view. Thus, while the author of an article on John Damascene published in the Catholic Encyclopedia in 1910 says that the romance Barlaam and Josaphat is dubiously attributed to John,[186] the most recent editors and translators of this romance think that the name of St. John of Damascus still has a right to appear on the title page of their edition.[187]

            The second period of iconoclasm was marked by the activity of the well-known defender of image-worship, Theodore of Studion, the abbot of a famous monastery of Constantinople which had declined in the time of Constantine V, but was revived under the administration of Theodore. Under his administration a new rule was worked out for the monastery on the basis of community life (cenoby); the intellectual needs of the monks were to be satisfied by a school established at the monastery. The monks were to be trained in reading, writing, and the copying of manuscripts, the study of the Holy Scriptures and the works of fathers of the church, and the art of composing hymns, which they sang during services.

            As one of the great religious and social workers in the stormy period of iconoclasm, Theodore demonstrated his ability as an eminent writer in various branches of literature. His dogmatic polemical works aimed to develop the fundamental theses concerning images and image-worship. His numerous sermons, which form the so-called Small and Large Catechisms, proved to be the most popular of his writings. He also left a number of epigrams, acrostics, and hymns. The latter cannot be studied and analyzed to any great extent because some of them are still unpublished, while others have appeared in unscientific editions, such as the Russian service books. His large collection of letters of a religious-canonic and social nature is of very great value for the cultural history of his times.

            The two last reigns of this period were marked by the creative activity of the interesting figure of Kasia, the only gifted poetess of the Byzantine period. When Theophilus decided to choose a wife, a bride show was arranged in the capital, for which the most beautiful maidens of all provinces were gathered in Constantinople. Kasia was one of them. The Emperor had to walk along the rows of maidens with a golden apple, and hand it to the one he desired to choose as his wife. He was about to hand it to Kasia, who pleased him more than any of the maidens, but her rather bold answer to his question caused him to change his intention and choose Theodora, the future restorer of orthodoxy. Kasia later founded a monastery where she spent the rest of her life. Kasia’s surviving church poems and epigrams are distinguished by original thought and vivid style. According to Krumbacher, who made a special study of her poems, “she was also a wise but singular woman, who combined a fine sensitiveness and a deep religiousness with an energetic frankness and a slight tendency to feminine slander.”[188]

            The persecution of image-worshipers, glorified in later times by the triumphant iconodules, provided rich material for numerous lives of saints and gave rise to the brilliant period of Byzantine hagiography.

            In the time of the Amorian dynasty some progress was made in the field of higher education in the Byzantine Empire and some advance in various branches of knowledge. Under Michael III, his uncle, Caesar Bardas, organized a higher school in Constantinople.[189] This higher school was located in the palace; its curriculum consisted of the seven main arts introduced in earlier pagan times and adopted later by Byzantine and western European schools. They are usually referred to as the “seven liberal arts” (septem artes liberales), divided into two groups: the trivium, grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics, and the quadrivium, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Philosophy and ancient classical writers were also studied in this school. Striving to make education accessible to everybody, Bardas proclaimed that the school would be free of charge; the professors were well paid from the government treasury. The famous scholar of this period, Photius, was one of the teachers in the higher school of Bardas.

            This school became the center about which gathered the best minds of the Empire during the subsequent reign of the Macedonian dynasty. Photius, whose first patriarchate fell in the time of Michael III, became the central force in the intellectual and literary movement of the second half of the ninth century. Exceptionally gifted, with a keen love of knowledge and an excellent education, he later devoted his entire attention and energy to educating others. His education had been many-sided, and his knowledge was extensive not only in theology but also in grammar, philosophy, natural science, law, and medicine. He gathered about himself a group of men who strove to enrich their knowledge. A man of inclusive scientific learning, Photius, as was customary in medieval times, was accused of having devoted himself to the study of the forbidden sciences of astrology and divination. Legendary tradition claims that in his youth he had sold his soul to a Jewish magician,[190] and in this, according to Bury, “the Patriarch appears as one of the forerunners of Faustus.”[191] As the most learned man of his time, he did not limit himself to teaching, but devoted much of his time to writing and has left a rich and varied literary heritage.

            Among the works of Photius, his Bibliotheca, or, as it is frequently called, Myriobiblon (thousands of books), is especially important. The circumstances which suggested this work are very interesting. A kind of reading club seems to have existed at the house of Photius where a select circle of his friends assembled to read aloud literature of all kinds, secular and religious, pagan and Christian. The rich library of Photius was at the service of his friends. Yielding to their requests he began to write synopses of the books which had been read.[192] In the Bibliotheca Photius gave extracts from numerous works, sometimes brief, sometimes extensive, as well as his own essays based on these abstracts, or critical comments on them. Here are many facts about grammarians, orators, historians, natural scientists, doctors, councils, and the lives of saints. The greatest value of this work lies in the fact that it has preserved fragments of writings which have disappeared. The Bibliotheca deals only with writers of prose. His numerous other works belong to the field of theology and grammar, and he has left also many sermons and letters. In two of his sermons he refers to the first attack of the Russians on Constantinople in the year 860, of which he was an eyewitness.

            In his striking universality of knowledge and in his insistence upon the study of ancient writers, Photius was representative of that intellectual movement in the Byzantine Empire which became very apparent, especially in the capital, from the middle of the ninth century, and was expressed in such events as the opening of Bardasuniversity, in which Photius himself devoted much time to teaching. In his lifetime and as a result of his influence, a closer and more friendly relation developed between secular science and theological teaching. So broad-minded was Photius in his relations to other people that even a Muhammedan ruler (Emir) of Crete could be his friend. One of his pupils, Nicolaus Mysticus, the Patriarch of Constantinople in the tenth century, wrote in his letter to the Emir’s son and successor that Photiusknew well that, although difference in religion is a barrier, wisdom, kindness, and the other qualities which adorn and dignify human nature attract the affection of those who love fair things; and, therefore, notwithstanding the difference of creeds, he loved your father, who was endowed with these qualities.”[193]

            Patriarch John the Grammarian, an iconoclast, impressed his contemporaries by his profound and varied learning, and was even accused of being a magician. Another distinguished man was Leo, a remarkable mathematician of the time of Theophilus. He became so famous abroad through his pupils that the Caliph Mamun, zealously interested in promoting education, begged him to come to his court. When Theophilus heard of this invitation he gave Leo a salary and appointed him as public teacher in one of the Constantinopolitan churches. Although Mamun had sent a personal letter to Theophilus begging him to send Leo to Bagdad for a short stay, saying that he would consider it as an act of friendship, and offering for this favor, as tradition has it, eternal peace and 2000 pounds of gold, the Emperor refused to grant this demand. In this case Theophilus treated science “as if it were a secret to be guarded, like the manufacture of Greek fire, deeming it bad policy to enlighten barbarians.”[194] In later years Leo was elected archbishop of Thessalonica. When deposed in the time of Theodora for his iconoclastic views, Leo continued to teach at Constantinople and became the head of the higher school organized by Bardas. It is well to remember that the apostle of the Slavs, Constantine (Cyril), studied under the guidance of Photius and Leo, and previous to his Khazar mission occupied the chair of philosophy in the higher school of the capital.

            This brief account will suffice to indicate that literary and intellectual life flourished in the time of the iconoclastic movement, and it would undoubtedly be seen to be more intensive and varied had the works of the iconoclasts survived through the ages.

            In connection with the letters exchanged between Theophilus and Mamun regarding Leo the Mathematician, it is interesting to consider the question of mutual cultural relations between the caliphate and the Empire in the first half of the ninth century. At this time the caliphate, ruled by Harun-ar-Rashid and Mamun, was experiencing a brilliant development of learning and science. In his desire to outrival the glories of Bagdad, Theophilus built a palace in imitation of Arabian models. Certain evidence indicates that the influence of Bagdad upon the Byzantine Empire was very stimulating,[195] but this difficult problem extends beyond the limits of this book.

            It has been argued frequently that in the field of art the iconoclastic epoch produced only negative results. And it is true that numerous valuable monuments of art were destroyed by the iconoclasts. “Their violence is to be deplored; their vandalism impoverished not only the centuries in which it was exercised, but those in which we ourselves are living.”[196] But, on the other hand, the iconoclastic epoch brought a new stream of life into Byzantine art by reviving once more Hellenistic models, especially those of Alexandria, and by introducing oriental decoration borrowed from the Arabs, who in their turn had borrowed it from Persia. And though the iconoclasts categorically suppressed religious art with images of Christ, the Virgin, and saints, they were tolerant toward the presentation of the human figure in general, which became more realistic during this period under the influence of Hellenistic models. Genre scenes of everyday life became the favorite subject of artists, and on the whole there was a decided predominance of purely secular art. An example of this tendency is the fact that in place of the fresco representing the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Constantine V Copronymus ordered a portrait of his favorite charioteer.

            The artistic monuments of the epoch, both religious and secular, have perished almost completely. Some mosaics in the churches of Thessalonica (Salonika) may fall within the limits of this period. A group of ivory carvings, especially ivory caskets, may also be attributed to the ninth century. The illuminated manuscripts of the iconoclastic epoch, the illustrations of which were the work of Byzantine monks, testify to the new spirit which had penetrated art. From the point of view of marginal illustrations the Chludoff (Chludov) Psalter is especially interesting. This oldest of illuminated psalters has been preserved at Moscow.[197] But it is greatly to be regretted that so few data exist for the study of art in the iconoclastic period. Many of the surviving materials are attributed to the iconoclastic epoch only on the basis of probable evidence, and not with full certainty.

            Diehl thus appraised the significance of the iconoclastic epoch for the subsequent second Golden Age of Byzantine art under the Macedonian dynasty:


It was to the time of the iconoclasts that the Second Golden Age owed its essential characteristics. From the iconoclastic epoch proceed the two opposite tendencies which mark the Macedonian era. If at that time there flourished an imperial art inspired by classical tradition and marked by a growing interest in portraiture and real life which imposed its dominant ideas upon religious art, if in opposition to this official and secular art there existed a monastic art more severe, more theological, more wedded to tradition, if from the interaction of the two there issued a long series of masterpieces; it is in the period of iconoclasm that the seeds of this splendid harvest were sown. Not merely for its actual achievements, but for its influence upon the future, does this period deserve particular attention m the history of Byzantine art.[198]





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