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A.A. Vasiliev
History of the Byzantine empire

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Social and political developments


Church affairs.

The major event in the church life of the Byzantine Empire in the time of the Macedonian dynasty was the final separation of the Christian church into the eastern Orthodox and the western Catholic, which took place in the middle of the eleventh century after long disputes which lasted for almost two centuries.

            The first act of Basil I in the realm of church affairs was the deposition of Patriarch Photius and the reinstatement of Ignatius, who had been deposed in the time of Michael III. By this measure Basil hoped to strengthen his position on a throne which did not rightfully belong to him. He felt that by raising Ignatius he was accomplishing the double purpose of maintaining peaceful relations with the pope and gaining the support of the Byzantine people, many of whom, as he knew very well, were partisans of the deposed Ignatius. In their letters to the pope both Basil and Ignatius acknowledged his authority and influence in the affairs of the eastern church. The Emperor, for example, wrote, “Spiritual Father and divinely reverend Pontiff! Hasten the improvement of our church and through your interference with injustice give us an abundance of goods, namely, pure unity and spiritual joining free from any contention and schism, a church one in Christ, and a flock obedient to one shepherd.” Ignatius sent the pope a letter full of humility, requesting that the Roman patriarch send vicars to Constantinople. In the concluding statement he wrote, “With them [the vicars] we should well and suitably arrange our church, which we have received by the providence of God manifested in the intercession of the sublime Peter and at your instance and intervention.”[77] These letters indicate a moment of apparent triumph for the papacy in the East, but Pope Nicholas I did not live to witness this victory, because the letters sent to him from Byzantium came after his death and were received by his successor, Hadrian II.

            At the Roman councils, and later in Constantinople in the year 869, in the presence of papal legates, Photius was deposed and anathematized with his partisans. The Constantinopolitan council of 869 was recognized as an ecumenical council by the western church and is still considered as such.

            In its own church life, then, the Empire yielded to the pope in all points. Quite different was the Emperor’s attitude toward me problem of religious affairs in Bulgaria, where the Latin clergy had triumphed at the end of the reign of Michael III. In spite of the pope’s displeasure and the opposition of the papal legates, Basil I succeeded in achieving the removal of Latin priests from Bulgaria, and Bulgarian King Boris again formed a union with the eastern church. This event exerted much influence upon the later historical fate of the Bulgarian people.

            During his confinement, in which he was subjected to great privations, the deposed and excommunicated Photius continued to enjoy the admiration of his followers, who remained true to him throughout Ignatiuspatriarchate. Basil himself soon recognized that his attitude toward Photius had been wrong, and he tried to correct it. He began by recalling Photius from confinement and bringing him to the Byzantine court, where he was entrusted with the education of the Emperor’s children. Later, when Ignatius died at a very advanced age, Basil offered Photius the patriarchal throne. This reinstatement of Photius marked the beginning of a new policy toward the pope.

            In the year 879 a council was convoked in Constantinople. In the number of participating hierarchs and in the general magnificence of the setting it surpassed even some of the ecumenical councils. According to one historian, this council “was, on the whole, a truly majestic event, such as had not been seen since the time of the Council of Chalcedon.”[78] The legates of Pope John VIII also came to this council, and not only were they forced to consent to the absolution of Photius and the restoration of his communion with the Roman church, but they also had to listen without any contradiction to the reading of the Nicaeo-Constantinopolitan Creed, which did not Include the filioque so widely used in the West. At the last session of the council the legates exclaimed, “If any man refuse to recognize Photius as the Holy Patriarch and decline to be in communion with him, his lot shall be with Judas, and he shall not be included among the Christians!” The Catholic historian of Photius wrote that “praises to Photius were the opening statements of the council, and its sessions were closed also with the glorification of the patriarch.”[79] This council also argued that the pope was a patriarch like all other patriarchs, that he possessed no authority over the entire church, and hence that it was not necessary for the patriarch of Constantinople to receive the confirmation of the Roman pontiff. Greatly angered, the pope sent a legate to Constantinople to insist upon the annulment of any measure passed at the council which was disagreeable to the pope. The legate was also to obtain certain concessions regarding the Bulgarian church. Basil and Photius refused to yield in any of these points and even went so far as to arrest the legate. It was formerly believed that when news of this act of defiance reached John VIII he anathematized Photius in a solemn ceremony in the Church of St. Peter in the presence of a large number of his flock, holding the Gospel in his hands. This was the so-called second schism of Photius. Recent investigations by Amann, Dvornik, and Grumel, however, have shown that the second schism of Photius never existed, and that neither John VIII or any of his successors anathematized Photius.[80] Relations between the Empire and Rome did not cease completely, however, but they became casual and indefinite. Photius did not remain in the patriarchal chair until the end of his life, for he was forced to leave it in 886, when his pupil, Leo VI, succeeded Basil I. Five years later Photius died. Throughout his long lifetime he played a very significant part in the religious as well as in the intellectual life of the Byzantine Empire.

            The reign of Basil I was marked also by a number of attempts to spread Christianity among pagan and heterodox peoples. Probably in his time the Empire endeavored to convert the Russians to Christianity, but very little light has been thrown on this subject. A source asserts that Basil persuaded the Russians “to take part in salutary baptism”[81] and accept the archbishop ordained by Ignatius. As yet it is difficult to determine which Russians the writer of this source had in mind. The conversion of the greater part of the Slavonic tribes settled in the Peloponnesus took place in the time of Basil I; the pagan Slavs remained in the mountains of Taygetus. It is also known that Basil forced the Jews of the Empire to accept Christianity.

            The deposition of Photius by Leo VI can be explained by Leo’s fear of the growing political influence of the patriarch and his party, as well as by Leo’s desire to raise his brother Stephen to the patriarchal throne. Through this latter measure he hoped to acquire unlimited authority in the church affairs of the Empire; Photiusstrong will would have opposed the Emperor’s tendency to rule over ecclesiastical matters. Under Leo’s successors there was a noticeable tendency toward a reconciliation with the Roman church through mutual concessions.

            The church problems of the Byzantine Empire became especially complicated at the beginning of the tenth century during the patriarchate of Nicholas Mysticus, a relative and pupil of Photius and the most remarkable of his successors. According to one historian, “the most noble traits of Photius were reincarnated in his pupil, Nicholas Mysticus, who, more than any one else, strove to follow the ideal example of a patriarch symbolized by Photius.”[82] This patriarch left a very interesting collection of letters invaluable from the historical and ecclesiastical points of view.

            Strong disagreements arose between Leo and Nicholas Mysticus on account of the Emperor’s fourth marriage, vehemently opposed by the patriarch on the basis that it was against all church laws.[83] In spite of this, the Emperor forced a presbyter to perform the marriage ceremony between him and Zoë, who thus became his fourth wife (his first three wives had died in rapid succession). After the wedding had been performed, in the absence of a patriarch, Leo himself placed the imperial crown upon Zoë’s head; this later gave Nicholas Mysticus occasion to say that the Emperor was to Zoë “both groom and bishop.”[84] The eastern patriarchs, when questioned with regard to this problem, expressed themselves in favor of allowing Leo to marry for the fourth time.[85] This marriage excited great confusion among the population of the Empire. The recalcitrant Nicholas Mysticus was deposed and exiled. At the Constantinopolitan council it was determined to grant a dispensation to the Emperor without dissolving his fourth marriage. After long deliberations the rank of patriarch was conferred upon Euthymius.

            The council did not bring harmony to the Empire. Two parties were formed among the Byzantine clergy. The first, which sided with Nicholas Mysticus, was against the confirmation of the Emperor’s fourth marriage and denounced the new patriarch, Euthymius. The other, a minority party, was in agreement with the decision of the council concerning Leo’s marriage, and recognized Euthymius as the chosen leader of the church. The dissension between these two parties spread from the capital into the provinces, and an obstinate struggle developed everywhere between the Nicholaites and the Euthymites. Some scholars view this struggle as a continuation of the former animosity between the Photinians (or Photians) and the Ignatians, which had subsided only for a short while.[86] In the end the Emperor saw that only the energetic and experienced Nicholas Mysticus could remedy the situation, and shortly before his death (912) Leo VI recalled Nicholas from confinement, deposed Euthymius, and reinstated the former on the patriarchal throne.[87]

            In the interests of religious peace in the Empire Nicholas Mysticus strove to restore the friendly relations with Rome which had been severed because of the pope’s approval of Leo’s fourth marriage. During the regency of Zoë, who ruled during the minority of her son, Constantine VII Porphyrogemtus, Nicholas Mysticus was deprived of influence. But in the year 919, when the government was transferred to Constantine’s father-in-law, Romanus I Lecapenus, and Zoë was forced to embrace monastic life, Nicholas Mysticus again rose to his former influential position. The main event in the last years of his patriarchate was the convocation in 920 of a council in Constantinople, which consisted of Nicholaites and Euthymites. They composed the Tome of Union (ο τομος της ενωσεως), approved by the general assembly. This act proclaimed that marriage for the fourth time was “unquestionably illicit and void, because it was prohibited by the church and intolerable in a Christian land.”[88] No direct reference was made in the Tome to the fourth marriage of Leo the Wise. Both parties remained satisfied by the decision of the council. It is probable, as Drinov supposed, that the reconciliation between the Nicholaites and the Euthymites was prompted also by “the terror aroused in the Byzantine population by the success of Bulgarian arms,”[89] After the council several letters were exchanged with the pope, and he agreed to send to the capital two bishops, who were to condemn the conflicts aroused by Leo’s fourth marriage. Direct communications were thus re-established between the churches of Rome and Constantinople. The Russian church historian, A. P. Lebedev, summed up the outcome of this period: “Patriarch Nicholas emerged as full victor in this new clash between the churches of Constantinople and Rome. The Roman church has to yield to the church of Constantinople and condemn its own acts.”[90] After the death of Nicholas Mysticus in 925, Romanus Lecapenus gained complete control over the church, and, as Runciman said, “Caesaropapism once more emerged victorious.”[91]

            Emperor Nicephorus Phocas was a very interesting personality from the ecclesiastical point of view. This most capable warrior, whose name is closely bound up with the brilliant pages of Byzantine military history, had devoted much of his time and attention, especially before he ascended the throne, to monastic ideals. He had even worn the hair shirt, and he kept up intimate relations with St. Athanasius of Athos, the famous founder of the large monastery on Mount Athos. The Life of Saint Athanasius even relates that once in a transport of religious zeal Nicephorus supposedly confided to Athanasius his sacred dream of forsaking all worldly vanity in order to devote himself to the service of God.[92] The Byzantine historian, Leo the Deacon, wrote that Nicephorus was “indomitably firm in his prayers to God and his nocturnal devotions; he maintained a very high spirit in his church hymns, and had no leanings toward anything vain.”[93] Nicephorus Phocas was semi soldier, semi recluse.[94] Many Byzantine people were greatly exercised when the ascetically inclined Emperor married the young and beautiful Theophano, the widow of Emperor Romanus II, who had a very dubious reputation. Traces of this feeling are found in the inscription on the sarcophagus of Nicephorus, which says that this emperorvanquished all but woman.”[95]

            The most important ecclesiastic measure of Nicephorus was his famous Novel of the year 964 with regard to monasteries and the philanthropic institutions connected with them. In the time of the Macedonian dynasty monastic landownership had assumed unusual proportions and frequently expanded at the expense of the free peasant holdings defended by several emperors of this dynasty. Even before the iconoclastic period, i.e., at the end of the seventh and the beginning of the eighth centuries, the eastern church had already been in possession of enormous landed estates. This led some scholars to compare the possessions of the eastern church with the similar landed wealth of the western church in the time of the Frankish kings, who complained of the emptiness of their treasury caused by the transfer of their lands into the hands of the clergy. The iconoclastic emperors of the eighth century waged a campaign against monasteries. Some were closed and their possessions confiscated by the treasury. This reform was simultaneous with the analogous secularization of church property in the western Frankish kingdom under the famous major-domo, Charles Martel. With the failure of iconoclasm and the rise of the Macedonian dynasty, the number of monasteries and the extent of their landed property began to increase very rapidly. Already the Novel of Romanus I Lecapenus had expressed the intention of limiting somewhat the growth of monasterial landed estates. A more decisive step in this direction was taken by Nicephorus Phocas in 964, when he published his Novel.

            This Novel states that, since the “obvious disease” of excessive cupidity has become widely spread in the monasteries and “other sacred institutions,” and since “the acquisition of many-acred enormous estates and the numerous cares of fruit trees” cannot be regarded as a commandment of the Apostles or as a tradition of the Fathers, the Emperor desires to “root out the God-hated evil of ambition,” and, in order to attain this end, forbids the founding of new monasteries, as well as the contribution of endowments and donations toward the upkeep of old monasteries, hospitals, and hostelries, or any gifts for the benefit of metropolitans and bishops.[96]

            This harsh decree, which must have aroused great discontent among the religious-minded population, could not very long remain in force, even imperfectly. Basil II abrogated the Novel of Nicephorus Phocas “as a law outrageous and offensive not only to the churches and hospitals but also to God himself,”[97] He restored the monasterial laws of the time of Basil I and Leo VI the Wise, i.e., the Basilics and the Novel of Constantine Porphyrogenitus. One of the reasons for Basil’s abolition of the Novel of Nicephorus Phocas was his conviction that this law had brought upon the Empire the anger of God when, toward the end of the tenth century, both internal and external complications brought the Empire to the verge of ruin.

            Nicephorus Phocas made an important step in the direction of strengthening Byzantine ecclesiastical organization in the southern Italian provinces of Apulia and Calabria, where papal and western influence was becoming very prominent in the second half of the tenth century, especially after the coronation of the German King Otto I and the growth of Longobardian power in the southern parts of Italy. Through his patriarch, Nicephorus Phocas prohibited the Latin ritual in Apulia and Calabria, and prescribed the observance of the Greek church ceremonial. This measure served as one of the many causes for the further alienation of the papacy from the Byzantine Empire. During the last years of Nicephorusreign the pope began to address him as the “Emperor of the Greeks,” while the title of “Emperor of the Romans,” an official title of the Byzantine rulers, he transferred to Otto of Germany. It is also interesting to note the attempt of Nicephorus Phocas to venerate as martyrs all soldiers who had fallen in the struggle with the infidels. This attempt was vehemently opposed by the patriarch and the bishops, and the Emperor was forced to give up his scheme.

            The names of Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces are connected with the beginning of a new era in the life of Mount Athos, famous for its monasteries. Individual hermits had lived on this mountain since the very beginning of monasticism in the fourth century, and several small and poor monasteries grew up there about the seventh century. During the period of the iconoclastic troubles of the eighth century the inaccessible districts of Mount Athos were sought as a refuge by many persecuted image-worshipers, who brought with them numerous church utensils, relics, and manuscripts. But life on Mount Athos was not safe because of the repeated maritime raids of the Arabs, during which many monks were killed or carried off as prisoners. Previous to the middle of the tenth century Mount Athos had gone through several periods of desolation. In the time of Nicephorus Phocas, the Athenian monastic organizations became much stronger, especially when St. Athanasius founded the first large monastery with its cenobitic organization and new set of rules (typikon, in Greek, the usual name for monastic rules in the Byzantine Empire) which determined the further life of the monastery. The hermits (anchorites) of Mount Athos, opposed to the introduction of cenobitic monasticism, sent a complaint against Athanasius to John Tzimisces, the successor of Nicephorus Phocas, accusing Athanasius of breaking the ancient customs of the Holy Mountain (as Athos was called in the typikon of Athanasius). Tzimisces investigated this complaint and confirmed the ancient Athenian rule, which tolerated the existence of both anchorites and cenobites. Following the lead of St. Athanasius, many new monasteries, Greek and others, were founded. In the time of Basil II there was already one Iberian or Georgian monastery; emigrants from Italy founded two, a Roman and an Amalfitan. Bishop Porphyrius Uspensky, a profound Russian student of the Christian East, asserted that when the aged Athanasius died (about 1000 A.D). there were three thousandvarious monks” on Mount Athos.[98] As early as the eleventh century there was a Russian Laura on this mountain. The name of Holy Mountain for Mount Athos, as an official term, appears for the first time in the second set of rules (typicon) given by Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus about the middle of the eleventh century.[99] The administration of the monasteries was entrusted to a council of Abbots (Igumens) headed by the first one among them, the protos (from the Greek πρωοτος, “the first”). The council was known as the protaton. Thus, in the time of the Macedonian dynasty Mount Athos became a very important cultural center, not only for the Byzantine Empire, but for the world at large.

            The problem of the division of churches which became so acute in the ninth century was brought to a final solution in the middle of the eleventh century. And while the main causes of this break were doctrinal, the final break was undoubtedly accelerated by the changed conditions in Italy in the middle of the eleventh century. In spite of the prohibitions of Nicephorus Phocas, Latin church influence continued to penetrate into the church organization of Apulia and Calabria. In the middle of the eleventh century the papal throne was occupied by Leo IX, whose interests were not limited by ecclesiastical affairs, but extended also into the field of political interests. The Cluniac movement, which embraced wide circles of western European clergy, developed under the direct protection of the pope. The aim of this movement was to reform the church, raise its low morals, give firmness to its loose discipline, and destroy the worldly manners and customs which had permeated the life of the church (such as simony, wedlock of the clergy, secular investiture, etc.). Whenever the advocates of this movement penetrated into a province, they placed its spiritual life in direct dependence upon the pope. The remarkable progress made by the Cluniac movement in southern Italy greatly displeased the Eastern church. Leo IX was convinced that he had also a sound political basis for intervening in the affairs of southern Italy. For instance, during the exchange of messages between the pope and the patriarch of Constantinople (Michael Cerularius) the pope referred to the famous Donation of Constantine (Donatio Constantini), which had presumably placed in the hands of the bishop of Rome not only spiritual but also temporal power. Yet, in spite of the various complications which arose between the East and the West, a break between the churches was not to be expected in the near future, especially since the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus was inclined to seek a peaceful solution to the problem.

            Papal legates were sent to Constantinople, among them the very haughty Cardinal Humbert. All of them, especially Humbert, acted insolently and arrogantly toward the patriarch, forcing him to refuse to carry on further negotiations with them. The patriarch also refused to make any concessions to Rome. Then, in the summer of the year 1054, the legates deposited upon the altar of St. Sophia a bull of excommunication, which proclaimed anathema for PatriarchMichael and his followers, guilty of the above-mentioned errors and insolences . . . along with all heretics, together with the devil and his angels.”[100] In response to this action Michael Cerularius convoked a council at which he excommunicated the Roman legates and all people connected with them who had come to “the God-guarded city like a thunder, or a tempest, or a famine, or, better still, like wild boars, in order to overthrow truth.”[101]

            Thus did the final separation of the western and eastern churches occur in the year 1054. The attitude of the three eastern patriarchs toward this break was exceedingly important for Michael Cerularius. Through the patriarch of Antioch he notified the patriarchs of Jerusalem and Alexandria of the separation of the churches, accompanying the news with fitting explanations. In spite of the scantiness of sources on this point, it may be stated with certainty that the three eastern patriarchates remained loyal to orthodoxy and supported the patriarch of Constantinople.[102]

For the patriarch of Constantinople the break of 1054 could be considered a great victory, which made him completely independent of the papal pretensions of the West. His authority became much greater in the Slavonic world and in the three eastern patriarchates. But for the political life of the Empire this break was fatal, because it definitely destroyed all possibilities of any lasting future political understanding between the Empire and the West, which remained under the strong influence of the papacy. And this was fatal because the Byzantine Empire was at times greatly in need of western help, especially when the eastern Turkish menace arose. Bréhier’s appraisal of the consequences of this break was; “It was this schism, which, by rendering fruitless all efforts at conciliation between the Empire of Constantinople and the West, paved the way for the fall of the Empire,”[103]

            The final break of 1054 was felt immediately only in official circles by the clergy and the government. The great mass of the population reacted very calmly to this separation, and for some time even remained unaware of the distinction between the teachings of Constantinople and of Rome. The attitude of Russia to this phenomenon was interesting. The Russian metropolitans of the eleventh century, appointed or confirmed by Constantinople, quite naturally accepted the Byzantine point of view, but the mass of Russian people had no grievances whatever against the Latin church and could find no errors in its teachings. For example, the Russian prince of the eleventh century appealed to the pope for help against the usurper, and this appeal did not arouse any surprise or protest.[104]


Legislation of the Macedonian emperors and social relations within the Empire.


Prochiron and Epanagoge. — The time of the Macedonian dynasty was a period of stirring legislative activity. Basil I desired to create a general code of Graeco-Roman or Byzantine law containing a chronological arrangement of legislative acts, both old and new. In other words, he planned to revive the legislative work of Justinian by adapting it to changed conditions, and to add to it the laws which had appeared in later times. The four parts of the Justinian code, written mostly in Latin and very bulky, were usually studied only in their Greek abridged versions, or in expositions, abstracts, and commentaries based on the Latin original. Many of these, though widely used, were very inaccurate and frequently mutilated the original texts. Basil I intended to exclude the old laws annulled by later Novels, and to introduce a number of new laws. The Latin terms and expressions retained in the new code were to be explained in Greek, for Greek was to be the language of Basil’s legislative work. The Emperor himself characterized his attempted reform in the field of law as “a purging of ancient laws” (ανακαθαρσις των παλαιων νομων).[105]

Knowing that the completion of the projected code would take much time, Basil issued meanwhile a smaller work entitled the Prochiron (ο προχειρος), i.e., a manual of the science of law. This was to supply people interested in legal works with a brief account of the laws by which the Empire was to be ruled. The preface to the Prochiron refers to these laws as laws establishing in the Empire righteousness, “by which alone, according to Solomon, a nation is exalted” (Proverbs 14:34).[106] The Prochiron was subdivided into forty titles (tituli) and contained the principal norms of civil law and a complete list of penalties for various offenses and crimes. Its main source, especially for the first twenty-one sections, were the Institutes of Justinian. Other parts of the Justinian code were used to a much lesser degree. So usual was the recourse to the Greek revised and abridged versions of this older code that even the compilers of the Prochiron resorted to them rather than to the Latin originals. The Prochiron refers to the Ecloga of Leo and Constantine as a “subversion of the good laws which was useless for the empire,” and states that “it would be unwise to keep it in force.”[107] Yet in spite of this harsh judgment, the Ecloga of the Isaurian emperors was apparently so practical and popular that the Prochiron used much of its contents, especially in the titles following the twenty-first. According to the introduction to the Prochiron, all persons interested in a more detailed study of active law were supposed to use the larger code of sixty books, also compiled in Basil’s time.[108]

            By the end of Basil’s reign a new volume of laws was compiled and published under the title of the Epanagoge (η επαναγωγη, “introduction”). Several scholars have somewhat incorrectly considered this legislative work as merely a revised and enlarged Prochiron.[109] According to its preface, the Epanagoge was an introduction to the forty volumes of “purifiedolder laws[110] collected also in Basil’s time; it, too, was divided into forty titles. Just what these two collections — one in sixty books mentioned in the Prochiron, the other in forty books mentioned in the Epanagogerepresented, is not certain. They were probably not finished for publication in Basil’s time but formed the foundation of the Basilics published by his successor, Leo VI. Some scholars believe that the Epanagoge was never really published, and remained only in the form of a draft,[111] while others hold that this work was an officially published law.[112]

            The Epanagoge differs very greatly from the Prochiron. In the first place, its first part contains entirely new and very interesting chapters on imperial authority, on the power of the patriarch, and other civil and ecclesiastic officials, which gives a very clear picture of the foundations of the public and social structure of the Empire and of the relations of the church to the state.[113] In the second place, the materials borrowed for the Epanagoge from the Prochiron are arranged in a new manner. It is almost certain that Patriarch Photius took part in the compilation of the Epanagoge, and his influence is especially evident in the definition of the relation of imperial power to the power of the patriarch, and in the treatment of the position to be occupied by the ecumenical patriarch of New Rome with regard to all the other patriarchs, who were to be considered only as local hierarchs. Following in the footsteps of the Prochiron, the introduction to the Epanagoge refers to the Ecloga of the iconoclastic emperors as “the gossip of the Isaurians, intended to oppose the divine doctrine and to destroy the salutary laws.”[114] This part of the Epanagoge speaks also of the complete abrogation of the Ecloga, and yet uses some of its materials.

            It may be mentioned here that the Epanagoge, together with a number of other Byzantine legal collections, has been translated into Slavonic, and many extracts from it are to be found in Slavonic codes and in the Russian Book of Rules (the so-called Kormchaia Kniga), or the Administrative Code, mentioned as early as the tenth century. The ideas expressed in the Epanagoge exerted great influence upon the later history of Russia. For instance, the documents concerning the cause of Patriarch Nikon in the time of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich (seventeenth century) contain direct quotations from the rulings of the Epanagoge with reference to the authority of the Emperor.[115]

            The Prochiron and the Epanagoge, together with the work on the “purification of ancient law,” represent the successful achievements of the time of Basil I, Going back, so to speak, to the elements of the somewhat neglected Roman law, Basil revived Justinian law and brought it closer to the life of his time by adding later laws called forth by changed social and economic conditions.


The Basilics and the Tipucitus. — Basil’s accomplishments in the field of law made it possible for his son and successor, Leo VI the Wise, to publish the Basilics (τα Βασιλικα), which represented the most complete monument of Graeco-Roman or Byzantine law. In it all parts of Justinian’s code are reshaped and combined into one code written in Greek. For this purpose a commission of qualified jurisconsults was appointed. The name of the Basilics originated not, as was formerly incorrectly supposed, from the name of Basil I, in whose time much material had been prepared for them, but from the Greek word basileus, meaning tsar, emperor; hence the proper translation for the title would be “Imperial Laws.”

            The compilation of Leo VI, subdivided into sixty books, followed the aim set out by Basil I: it strove to revive the legislative work of Justinian by omitting laws which had lost their significance or were not applicable to the changed conditions of Byzantine life. The Basilics do not, therefore, represent a complete, literal translation of the Justinian code, but an adaptation of it to the new conditions of life. Some Novels and other legal documents published after Justinian, including even several Novels of Basil I and Leo VI, were also used as sources for the Basilics.[116] No one manuscript has preserved the whole of the Basilics, but various manuscripts have preserved parts, so that more than two-thirds of the whole exists.

            From the point of view of the reconstruction of the lost books of the Basilics a work of the eleventh or twelfth century is very important, the Tipucitus (Τιπουκειτος),[117] attributed to a Byzantine jurisconsult, Patzes.[118] The book is a table of contents of the Basilics, giving the rubrics and most important chapters under each title and indicating analogous passages in all of them. The Tipucitus has not yet been published in its entirety.[119]

            The revived classical code of the Basilics, however, carefully adapted to existing conditions, still remained artificial and inadequate. That is why many parts of the Ecloga remained in force even after the appearance of the Basilics and were later revised and enlarged many times. The Basilics, however, is a colossal achievement in the domain of Byzantine jurisprudence and culture, ranking after the Corpus Iuris Civilis. It is still a book almost under seven seals, and a scientific and exhaustive study of it will undoubtedly reveal new horizons and wide perspectives.[120]


The Book of the Eparch. — To the time of Leo VI may perhaps be referred a most interesting document, “an invaluable treasure for the internal history of Constantinople,”[121] the so-called Book of the Eparch or Book of the Prefect, discovered in Geneva by the Swiss scholar, Nicole, at the end of the nineteenth century.[122] The date of this document has not been definitely established. It may have been compiled during the reign of Leo VI or later in the tenth century, perhaps even under Nicephorus Phocas (after 963).[123]

            The rank of eparch or prefect of Constantinople was applied in the Byzantine Empire to the governor of the capital; he was entrusted with almost unlimited authority, and stood, so to speak, on the highest rank of the Byzantine bureaucratic ladder. It was his duty first of all to maintain public order and safety in the capital, and for this purpose he had at his disposal a large body of employees known as the secretum of the eparch. Besides these duties, he also had jurisdiction over the corporations and guilds of craftsmen and traders in the capital. The Book of the Eparch throws much light on this side of Constantinopolitan life, scarcely touched upon by earlier sources. It lists the various ranks of craftsmen and traders, and gives an account of the internal organization of their guilds, of the government’s attitude to them, and so forth. The list of corporations in this document is headed by an organization which in the modern conception would not fall into the general class of craft or trade associations, namely by the corporation of notaries (οι ταβουλλαριοι, tabularii), who, among other things, were required to be familiar with the sixty books of the Basilics. Then follow the guilds of jewelers, silk-producers, silk-weavers, linen-makers, makers of wax, soap, and leather, and the bakers, The list of traders found in the Book of the Eparch speaks of money-changers, traders in silk goods and dresses, dealers in raw silk, sellers of perfumes, wax, and soap; grocers, butchers, sellers of pigs, fish, horses, and bread, and tavern keepers. Each corporation enjoyed a monopoly, and severe penalty was provided for anyone who attempted to pursue two trades, even if they were very similar. The internal life of the guilds, their organization and work, the grant of markets, the regulation of prices and profit, export and import from and to the capital, and many other problems were regulated under very strict government supervision. Free trade and free production were unknown in the Byzantine Empire. The eparch of Constantinople was the only high official who had the right to intervene personally, or through his representatives, in the life of the guilds and regulate their production or trade.[124] The account of the Byzantine guilds found in this source provides data for an interesting comparison with the medieval guilds of western Europe.

            Over a hundred novels from the period of Leon VI exist, which supply rich material for the internal history of the Byzantine Empire at the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth century, and which have not yet been adequately studied and utilized.[125]

The “powerful” and the “poor. — The legislative works of Basil I and Leo VI in the ninth and tenth centuries brought about a temporary revival in the field of juridical literature which expressed itself, on the one hand, in the appearance of numerous commentaries and interpretations of the Basilics (such commentaries were usually known as scholia), and, on the other hand, in the publication of various abridged collections and manuals. The tenth century was marked also by an exceedingly interesting tendency in the legislative work of the Byzantine emperors, who were compelled to express through a number of Novels their reaction to one of the most acute questions in the social and economic life of that period, namely, the problem of the excessive development of large landownership, highly detrimental to small peasant landholding and the free peasant community.

            In the time of the Macedonian dynasty the class of the “powerful” (δυνατοι), or magnates, had again grown very prominent. At the other extreme stood the class of the “poorpeople (πενητες), who may be compared with the poor people (pauperes) of medieval western Europe, and the orphans (suroti) of the Moscow period in Russian history. The poor people of the Byzantine Empire of the tenth century were those small peasant owners and members of organized communes whom heavy taxes and various duties forced to appeal for protection to the powerful magnates and pay for that protection the price of their freedom and independence.

            The rise of the powerful in the tenth century, seemingly sudden at first glance, may be partly explained by the aftereffects of the insurrection of Thomas in the third decade of the ninth century. This was especially true of Asia Minor, where the number of large landowners grew to enormous proportions in the tenth century. The severe and lasting nature of this insurrection caused the ruin of a vast number of small landholders, forcing them to transfer their property to their wealthy neighbors. But this was only one of the many causes of the development of large estates. On the whole, the problem of the growth of large landownership in the Byzantine Empire during the ninth and tenth centuries has not yet been sufficiently elucidated.

            The rulers of the Macedonian dynasty, at least those from Romanus Lecapenus (919-44) to Basil II, who died in 1025, energetically defended the cause of the small landowners and the peasant communes against the infringements of the powerful. The reasons must be sought in the excessive growth of the large landholdings. The powerful, who controlled a vast number of serfs and immense landed estates, could easily organize and subsidize armies composed of their dependents, and were thus enabled to conspire against the central government. The emperors, by their efforts to crush the strength of the powerful and uphold the interests of the small peasantry and the peasant commune, were at the same time defending their own power and throne, seriously threatened in the tenth century, especially by Asia Minor.

            The emperors were also compelled to defend the so-calledmilitary holdings.” Even in the time of the Roman Empire it had been customary to assign land to soldiers on the border lines of the Empire, and sometimes even within the Empire, on the condition that they should continue to serve in the army. These allotments survived until the tenth century, although they were in a state of decline. They, too, were threatened in the ninth and tenth centuries by the powerful, who strove to buy up these military estates just as they did the small peasant holdings. The emperors of this period also made attempts to defend these military fiefs.

            The measures taken by the rulers of the Macedonian dynasty in defense of peasant and military landholding were in reality very simple. They prohibited the powerful from buying their way into peasant communities or from acquiring peasant and military allotments. The government’s campaign in this direction was initiated by the publication of a Novel in the year 922 by Romanus I Lecapenus, the co-regent of Constantine Porphyrogenitus. This Novel proposed three regulations: (1) in any sale and temporary or hereditary lease of real estate, i.e., land, houses, vineyards, etc., the preferential right would belong to the peasants and their free commune; (2) the powerful would be forbidden to acquire the property of the poor in any manner, whether it be by donation, will, patronage, purchase, rent, or exchange; (3) the military allotments alienated in any manner during the last thirty years, and also those which were about to be alienated, would be returned to their original owners without any compensation to the holders.

            The terrible disasters which occurred in the Empire soon after the publication of this Novel put these measures of Romanus to a difficult trial. The untimely frosts, terrible famine, and pestilence made the lot of the peasants very hard. The powerful took advantage of the desperate position of the peasants and bought up their holdings at very low prices, or for mere trifling amounts of bread. This shocking open practice of the powerful forced Romanus to publish in 934 a second Novel in which he harshly reproved the cruel avidity of the wealthy class, stating that they were “to the unhappy villages like a plague or gangrene, which had eaten its way into the body of the village, bringing it closer to final peril.”[126] This Novel provided that the peasants from whom the powerful had bought land against the law during or after the year of famine could redeem their holdings at the price at which they had sold it; the new owners were to be removed immediately after payment was made by the peasant. After a brief remark about the successful operations of the Byzantine army, the Novel contained the following concluding statement: “If we have attained such success in our struggle with our external enemies, then how can we fail to crush our domestic and internal enemies of nature, men, and good order, through our rightful desire of freedom and the sharpness of the present law?”[127]

            But this decree of Romanus failed to halt the development of large land-ownership and the dissolution of small peasant households and communities. In a subsequent Novel of Constantine Porphyrogenitus it was officially stated that the older laws were not observed. The restrictions placed upon the rich in Constantine’s reign surpassed those of Romanus. Nicephorus Phocas, who rose to the throne through his marriage to the widow of Romanus II, was a member of the powerful class, and, quite naturally, understood and favored the interests of that class more than any of his predecessors. In the words of V. G. Vasilievsky, the Novel of Nicephorus Phocasunquestionably indicates a certain reaction in the field of legislation in favor of the powerful class, even though it speaks only of an equally just treatment of both sides.”[128] This Novel stated that “ancient legislators considered all rulers as champions of justice, calling them a general and equal benefit to all,” and indicates that the predecessors of Nicephorus Phocas have deviated from this original ideal. “They completely neglected to care for the prosperity of the powerful, and did not even permit them to remain in possession of what they had already acquired.”[129] By the abrogation of previous rulings, Nicephorus Phocas gave new freedom to the lawlessness and growth of the powerful class.

            The sternest foe of the powerful class was Basil II Bulgaroctonus. Two leaders of the powerful families of Asia Minor, Bardas Phocas and Bardas Sclerus, rebelled against the Emperor and nearly deprived him of the throne. Only the intervention of the Russian auxiliary corps sent by Prince Vladimir prevented the fall of the Emperor. It is not surprising, therefore, that Basil II viewed the large landowners as his most dangerous enemies, and was very harsh and unscrupulous in his treatment of them. Once, in passing through Cappadocia, Basil and his entire army were lavishly entertained in the enormous estate of Eustathius Maleinus. Suspecting that his host might be a possible rival, and fearing that he might attempt to follow in the footsteps of Phocas and Sclerus, the Emperor took him to the capital and forced him to remain there to the end of his days. After the death of Maleinus, his vast estates were confiscated. A similar incident was related in the Novel itself. The story stated that the Emperor heard that a certain Philocales of Asia Minor, a poor peasant by birth, had become famous and wealthy, attained high rank in service, and had seized the village in which he lived and transformed it into his own estate, changing even its name. Basil ordered that all the magnificent buildings which belonged to Philocales should be completely destroyed and razed to the ground and the land returned to the poor. By the orders of the Emperor Philocales himself was again reduced to the state of a simple peasant.[130] There is no doubt that the families of Phocas, Sclerus, and Maleinus, and such individuals as Philocales, were only a few of the large landowning class of Asia Minor.

            The famous Novel of 996 abolished the forty yearsprescription which protected the rights of the powerful who had illegally seized peasant estates and who tried “to extend this term either by means of gifts, or by means of power, in order to acquire final ownership of that which they had acquired from the poor by wicked means.”[131] The estates acquired by the powerful from village communities previous to the issue of Romanus’ first law were to remain in the hands of the powerful only if the latter could prove their rights of ownership by written evidence or by a sufficient number of witnesses. The Novel stated that the demands of the treasury could not consider any prescription; hence the statemay claim its rights by going back to the time of Caesar Augustus.” The problem of military fiefs also compelled the Macedonian rulers to issue several novels.

            In addition to the Novel of 996, Basil II issued a decree concerning the tax called allelengyon, meaning mutual warrant (αλληλεγγυον). As far back as the early part of the ninth century (in so far as the brief statement on this point in one of the sources shows)[133] Emperor Nicephorus I issued orders which placed upon their richer neighbors the responsibility for the full payment of taxes of the poor. The allelengyon as a tax was nothing new. It represented a continuation, and at the same time a variation, of the late Roman system of the epibole (see in discussion of Anastasius): “The allelengyon system of payment imposed excessively heavy charges on the peasantry, and this sufficiently explains why membership of a village community was considered burdensome, and why a peasant usually preferred to own a detached property.”[134] The orders of Nicephorus I aroused so much hatred toward the Emperor that his successors were apparently compelled to forsake this tax. When the need of money for the upkeep of the Bulgarian war became very great and the desire to deal the powerful a heavy blow had grown very strong in Basil II, he revived the law which made the wealthy landowners responsible for the taxes of the poor, if the latter were unable to pay them. If this measure, so strongly defended by Basil II, had remained in force for a long time, it might have gone far to ruin the powerful owners of both ecclesiastical and temporal estates. But the allelengyon was enforced only for a brief period of time. In the first half of the eleventh century Romanus III Argyrus, who acquired the throne through his marriage to Zoë, the daughter of Constantine VIII, urged by his interest in the welfare of the powerful and by his desire to find a way for reconciliation with the higher clergy and landed nobility, repealed the hated allelengyon.

            On the whole, the decrees of the Macedonian emperors of the tenth century, though limiting to some extent the encroachments of the powerful, accomplished very few definite results. In the eleventh century the famous Novels were gradually forgotten and abandoned. The same century witnessed a material change in the internal policy of the Byzantine emperors, who began to favor and openly protect large landownership, hastening the wide development of serfdom. Still, the free peasant commune and the free small landowners did not disappear entirely from the Empire. These institutions continued to exist and will be discussed in connection with later periods.


Provincial administration.

            The provincial administration of the Empire in the ninth century and in the time of the Macedonian dynasty continued to develop along the path of theme organization, discussed in an earlier chapter. This development expressed itself, on the one hand, in the further breaking up of the older themes and consequently in the increase in the number of themes, and, on the other hand, in elevating to the position of themes districts which previously had borne some other name, such as clisurae.

            Both exarchates, which are considered by historians as the true precursors of themes, had become alienated from the Empire: the Carthagenian or African exarchate was conquered by the Arabs in the middle of the seventh century, while the Ravenna exarchate was occupied in the first half of the eighth century by the Longobards, who were soon forced to cede the conquered territories of this exarchate to the Frankish king, Pippin the Brief. He, in his turn, handed them over to the pope in 754, thereby laying the foundations for the famous medieval papal state. In the seventh century the Byzantine Empire had, in addition to the exarchates, five military governments which did not yet bear the name of themes. At the beginning of the ninth century there were ten themes: five Asiatic, four European, and one maritime. On the basis of data found in the works of the Arabian geographer of the ninth century, Ibn-Khurdadhbah, and in other sources, historians claim that there were twenty-five military districts in the ninth century, but that not all of these were themes. Among them were included two clisurarchiae, one ducatus, and two archontatus. The ceremonial treatise of precedence at court, written by the court marshal (atriclines), Philotheus, in 899 and usually included as part of the so-called book on Ceremonies of the Byzantine Court of the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, lists twenty-five themes.[135] In his work Concerning Themes (tenth century), Constantine Porphyrogenitus gives a list of twenty-nine themes: seventeen Asiatic, including the four sea themes, and twelve European, including the Sicilian theme, part of which formed the theme of Calabria in the tenth century after the Arabian conquest of Sicily proper. The twelve European themes included also the theme of Cherson (Korsun) in the Crimea, founded probably as far back as the ninth century, and frequently referred to as “the Klimata” or “Gothic Klimata.” The list published by V. Beneševič and attributed to the reign of Romanus Lecapenus before 921-927 gives thirty themes.[136] In the eleventh century the number rose to thirty-eight.[137] Most of them were governed by a military governor, the strategus. Because of the frequent changes in the number of themes, and because of the lack of sources on the historical development of the theme organization, knowledge of this important side of Byzantine life is still very limited and inexact.

            Something should be said of the clisurae and the clisurarchs. The name clisura, which even today means a “mountain pass” in Greek, was applied in the Byzantine period to a “frontier fortress” with limited neighboring territory, or, more generally, to “a small provinceruled by a clisurarch, whose authority was nor as great as that of the strategus, and did not, in all probability, combine both military and civil responsibilities. Some of the clisurae, as, for instance, those of Seleucia, Sebastea in Asia Minor, and a few others, eventually rose in importance by being transformed into themes.

            The strategi who stood at the head of the themes had a large body of subordinates. At least in the time of Leo VI the Wise the strategi of the eastern themes, including the sea themes, were receiving definite maintenance from the government treasury, while the strategi of the western themes were supported by the revenues of their respective districts and not by the treasury.

            The theme organization had reached the highest stage of its development in the time of the Macedonian dynasty. After this period the system began to decline gradually, partly because of the conquests of the Seljuq Turks in Asia Minor, and partly because of the changes which took place in Byzantine life during the period of crusades.



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