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A.A. Vasiliev
History of the Byzantine empire

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The time of troubles (1056-81)


The emperors.

As early as 1025, after the death of Basil II Bulgaroctonus, the Empire entered upon a period of troubles, frequent changes of accidental rulers, and the beginning of a general decline. Empress Zoë succeeded in raising each of her three husbands to the throne. In the year 1056, with the death of Empress Theodora, Zoë’s sister, the Macedonian dynasty was definitely extinguished. A period of troubles set in and lasted for twenty-five years (1056-81), It ended only with the accession of Alexius Comnenus, the founder of the famous dynasty of the Comneni.

            This period, characterized externally by frequent changes on the throne, which was occupied for the most part by incapable emperors, was a very significant period in the history of the Byzantine Empire; for during these twenty-five years those conditions developed in the Empire which later called forth the crusade movements in the West.

            During this period the external enemies of the Byzantine Empire exerted pressure on all sides: the Normans were active in the west, the Patzinaks and Uzes in the north, and the Seljuq Turks in the east. In the end the territory of the Byzantine Empire was considerably reduced.

            Another distinguishing feature of this period was the struggle waged by the military element and the large landowning nobility (especially that of Asia Minor) against the central bureaucratic government. This struggle between the provinces and the capital ended, after a number of fluctuations, in the victory of the army and the landowners, which was a victory of the provinces over the capital. Alexius Comnenus was at the head of the victorious side.

            All the Emperors of the period of troubles of the eleventh century were of Greek origin. In the year 1056 the aged Empress Theodora was compelled by the court party to select as her successor the aged patrician, Michael Stratioticus. Theodora died soon after her choice had been made, and Michael VI Stratioticus, the candidate of the court party, remained on the throne for about a year (1056-57). Against him an opposition formed, headed by the army of Asia Minor, which proclaimed as emperor their general, Isaac Comnenus, a representative of a large landowning family famous for his struggle with the Turks. This was the first victory of the military party over the central government during the period of troubles. Michael Stratioticus was forced to abdicate and spend the remainder of his days as a private individual.

            This victory of the military party was short-lived. Isaac Comnenus ruled only from 1057 to 1059, and then renounced the throne and took holy orders. The reasons for his abdication are still not very clear. It may be that Isaac Comnenus was a victim of skillful plotting on the part of those who were dissatisfied with his independent active rule. It is known that he considered the interests of the treasury of primary importance, and ;n order to increase its income he laid his hands upon lands illegally acquired by large landowners, secular as well as ecclesiastic, and reduced the salaries of high officials. It seems probable that the famous scholar and statesman, Michael Psellus, had something to do with this conspiracy against Isaac Comnenus.

            Isaac was succeeded by Constantine X Ducas (1059-67). This gifted financier and defender of true Justice devoted all his attention to the affairs of civil government. The army and military affairs in general interested him very little. His reign may be characterized as a reaction of the civil administration against the military element which had triumphed in the time of Isaac Comnenus, or as the reaction of the capital against the provinces. It was “the unhappy time of the domination of bureaucrats, rhetoricians, and scholars.”[138]And yet the threatening advances of the Patzinaks and Uzes from the north and the Seljuq Turks from the east did not justify the antimilitary nature of Constantine’s administration. The Empire was urgently in need of a ruler who could organize the necessary resistance to the enemy. Even such an anti-militarist of the eleventh century as Michael Psellus wrote: “The army is the backbone of the Roman state.”[139] In view of this a strong opposition was formed against the Emperor. When he died in 1067 imperial authority passed for a few months to his wife, Eudocia Macrembolitissa. The military party compelled her to marry the capable general Romanus Diogenes, born in Cappadocia. He ascended the throne as Romanus IV Diogenes and ruled from 1067 to 1071.

            His accession marks the second victory of the military party. The four yearsrule of this soldier-emperor ended very tragically for him when he was captured and became a prisoner of the Turkish sultan. Great tumult arose in the capital when it received the news of the Emperor’s captivity. After some hesitation a new emperor was proclaimed, the son of Eudocia Macrembolitissa by Constantine Ducas, her first husband, and a pupil of Michael Psellus. He is known in history as Michael VII Ducas, surnamed Parapinakes.[140] Eudocia found protection by assuming the veil. When Romanus had been set free by the Sultan and had returned to the capital, he found the throne occupied by a new ruler, and in spite of the fact that he was given the assurance o£ personal safety upon his return, he was barbarously blinded and ‘died shortly after.

Michael VII Ducas Parapinakes (1071-78) was fond of learning, scholarly disputes, and verse-writing, and was not at all inclined toward military activity. He restored the bureaucratic regime of his father, Constantine Ducas, which was unsuitable to the external position of the Empire. The new successes of the Turks and Patzinaks were persistently demanding that the Empire be guided by a soldier-emperor supported by the army, which alone could save it from ruin. In this respect “the spokesman of popular needs, who gave hopes of fulfilling them”[141] was the strategus of one of the themes in Asia Minor, Nicephorus Botaniates. He was proclaimed emperor in Asia Minor and forced Parapinakes to assume the cowl and retire to a monastery. He then entered the capital and was crowned by the patriarch. He remained on the throne from 1078 until 1081, but as a result of old age and physical weakness he was unable to deal with either internal or external difficulties. At the same time the large landowning aristocracy in the provinces did not recognize his rights to the throne, and many pretenders who disputed these rights appeared in various parts of the Empire. One of them, Alexius Comnenus, a nephew of the former Emperor, Isaac Comnenus, who was also related to the ruling family of Ducas, showed much skill in utilizing the existing conditions for reaching his goal, the throne. Botaniates had abdicated and retired to a monastery, where he later took holy orders. In the year 1081 Alexius Comnenus was crowned emperor and put an end to the period of troubles. The accession of this first ruler of the dynasty of the Comneni in the eleventh century marked still another victory of the military party and large provincial landowners, It was very natural that during such frequent changes of rulers and unceasing hidden and open strife for the throne the external policy of the Empire should have suffered greatly and caused Byzantium to descend from the high position it had occupied in the medieval world. This decline was furthered by the complicated and dangerous external conditions brought about by the successful operations of the main enemies of the Empire: the Seljuq Turks in the east, the Patzinaks and Uzes in the north, and the Normans in the west.


The Seljuq Turks.

            The Byzantine Empire had known the Turks for a long time. A project of a Turko-Byzantine alliance existed in the second half of the sixth century. The Turks also served in Byzantium as mercenaries as well as the imperial bodyguard.[142] They were numerous in the ranks of the Arabian army on the eastern borders of the Empire, and they took an active part in the taking as well as the plundering of Amorion in 838. But these relations and conflicts with the Turks were of little or no consequence to the Empire until the eleventh century. With the appearance of the Seljuq Turks on the eastern border in the first half of the eleventh century conditions changed.[143]

            The Seljuqs, or Seljucids, were the descendants of the Turkish prince Seljuq, who was in the service of a Turkestan khan about the year 1000. From the Kirghiz steppes Seljuq had migrated with his tribe to Transoxiana, near Bukhara, where he and his people embraced Islam. In a short period of time the strength of the Seljuqs had increased to such an extent that the two grandsons of Seljuq were able to lead the savage Turkish hordes into attacks on Khorasan (Khurasan).

            The aggressive movement of the Seljuqs in western Asia created a new epoch in Muslim, as well as in Byzantine, history. In the eleventh century the caliphate was no longer a united whole. Spain, Africa, and Egypt had long since led a political life independent of the caliph of Bagdad. Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia were also divided among various independent dynasties and separate rulers. After their conquest of Persia in the middle of the eleventh century the Seljuqs penetrated into Mesopotamia and entered Bagdad. From now on the caliph of Bagdad was under the protection of the Seljucids, whose sultans did not reside at Bagdad, but exercised their authority in this important city through a general. Shortly after this, when the strength of the Seljuq Turks increased still more because of the arrival of new Turkish tribes, they conquered all of western Asia, from Afghanistan to the borders of the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor, and the Egyptian caliphate of the Fatimids.

            From the middle of the eleventh century the Seljuqs became a very prominent factor in the history of the Byzantine Empire, for they began to menace its border provinces in Asia Minor and in the Caucasus. In the fourth decade of the eleventh century Constantine IX Monomachus annexed to the Empire Armenia with its new capital, Ani. Armenia was therefore no longer a buffer state between the Empire and the Turks; when it was attacked, Byzantine territory was attacked. Moreover in this attack the Turks were very successful. Turkish troops were also advancing into Asia Minor.

During the very active, though very brief, rule of Isaac Comnenus, the eastern border was well defended against the attacks of the Seljuqs. But after his fall the antimilitary policy of Constantine Ducas weakened the military power of Asia Minor and facilitated the advance of the Turks into Byzantine districts. It is not unlikely, according to one historian, that the government viewed “the misfortunes of these stubborn and arrogant provinces” with some pleasure. “The East, like Italy, paid a heavy price for the mistakes of the central government.”[144] Under Constantine X Ducas, and during the subsequent seven monthsrule of his wife, Eudocia Macrembolitissa, the second of the Seljuq sultans, Alp Arslan, conquered Armenia and devastated part of Syria, Cilicia, and Cappadocia. In Caesarea, the capital of Cappadocia, the Turks pillaged the main sanctuary of the city, the Church of Basil the Great, where the relics of the saint were kept.[145] A Byzantine chronicler wrote of the time of Michael Parapinakes (1071-1078): “Under this emperor almost the whole world, on land and sea, occupied by the impious barbarians, has been destroyed and has become empty of population, for all Christians have been slain by them and all houses and settlements with their churches have been devastated by them in the whole East, completely crushed and reduced to nothing.”[146]

            The military party found a husband for Eudocia in the person of Romanus Diogenes. The new Emperor conducted several campaigns against the Turks and achieved some success in the early battles. His army, made up of various tribesMacedonian Slavs, Bulgarians, Uzes, Patzinaks, Varangians, and Franks (a name applied in this period to all western European nationalities) — lacked good training and solid organization and was not able to offer strong resistance to the rapid movement of the Turkish cavalry and their quick and bold nomadic attacks. The most untrustworthy part of the Byzantine army was the Uze and Patzinak Sight cavalry, which, in the course of their conflicts with the Turks, immediately felt a tribal kinship with the latter.

            The last campaign of Romanus Diogenes ended with the fatal battle of 1071 near Manzikert (Manazkert, now Melazgherd), in Armenia, north of Lake Van. Shortly before the combat the detachment of Uzes with their leader went over to the side of the Turks. This caused great unrest in the army of Romanus Diogenes. At the crisis of the battle one of the Byzantine generals began to spread the rumor of the defeat of the imperial army. The soldiers became panic-stricken and turned to flight. Romanus, who fought heroically throughout the battle, was captured by the Turks, and upon his arrival in the enemy’s camp was greeted with great honor by Alp Arslan.

            The victor and the vanquished negotiated an “eternalpeace and a treaty of friendship whose main points, as indicated in Arabian sources, were: (1) Romanus Diogenes obtained his freedom by the payment of a definite sum of money; (2) Byzantium was to pay a large annual tribute to Alp Arslan; (3) Byzantium was to return all Turkish captives.[147] Romanus upon his return to Constantinople found the throne occupied by Michael VII Ducas; Romanus was blinded by his foes, and died shortly after.

            The battle of Manzikert had marked consequences for the Empire. Although according to the treaty the Byzantine Empire probably ceded no territory to Alp Arslan,[148] its losses were very great, for the army which defended the borders of Asia Minor was so completely destroyed that the Empire was unable to resist the later advance of the Turks there. The woeful condition of the Empire was further aggravated by the weak antimilitary administration of Michael VII Ducas. The defeat at Manzikert was a death blow to Byzantine domination in Asia Minor, that most essential part of the Byzantine Empire. After the year 1071 there was no longer a Byzantine army to resist the Turks. One scholar goes so far as to say that after this battle all of the Byzantine state was in the hands of the Turks.[149] Another historian calls the battle “the death hour of the great Byzantine Empire,” and continues that “although its consequences, in all their horrible aspects, were not felt at once, the East of Asia Minor, Armenia, and Cappadocia — the provinces which were the homes of so many famous emperors and warriors and which constituted the main strength of the Empire — were lost forever, and the Turk set up his nomadic tents on the ruins of ancient Roman glory. The cradle of civilization fell prey to Islamic barbarism and to complete brutalization.”[150]

            During the years which elapsed from the catastrophe of 1071 to the accession of Alexius Comnenus in 1081, the Turks took advantage of the unprotected position of the Empire and the internal strife of its parties, who frequently appealed for aid, and penetrated still deeper into the life of Byzantium. Separate detachments of Turks reached as far as the western provinces of Asia Minor. The Turkish troops which aided Nicephorus Botaniates in his seizure of the throne accompanied him as far as Nicaea and Chrysopolis (now Scutari).

            In addition, after the death of Romanus Diogenes and Alp Arslan, neither Turks nor Empire considered themselves bound by the treaty negotiated by these rulers. The Turks utilized every occasion for pillaging Byzantine provinces in Asia Minor, and, according to a contemporary Byzantine chronicler, entered these provinces not as momentary bandits but as permanent masters.[151] This statement, however, is exaggerated, at least for the period prior to 1081. As J. Laurent asserted, “In 1080, seven years after their first appearance on the shores of the Bosphorus, the Turks had yet been established nowhere; they had founded no state; they had been always merely errant and disorderly pillagers.”[152] The successor of Alp Arslan entrusted military leadership in Asia Minor to Suleiman-ibn-Qutalmish, who occupied the central part of Asia Minor and later founded there the sultanate of Rum, or Asia Minor.[153] Since its capital was the richest and most beautiful Byzantine city in Asia Minor, Iconium (now Konia), this state of the Seljuqs is often called the sultanate of Iconium.[154] From its central position in Asia Minor the new sultanate spread out as far as the Black Sea in the north and the Mediterranean coast in the south, and became a dangerous rival of the Empire. The Turkish troops continued to move farther to the west, and the forces of the Byzantine Empire were not strong enough to oppose them.

            The onward movement of the Seljuqs and perhaps the menacing advances of the northern Uzes and Patzinaks toward the capital compelled Michael VII Ducas Parapinakes, in the early part of his reign, to appeal for western aid by sending a message to Pope Gregory VII, promising to repay the pope’s assistance by bringing about a union of the churches. Gregory VII reacted favorably and sent a number of messages to the princes of western Europe and to “all Christians (ad omnes christianos), in which he stated that “the pagans were exerting great pressure upon the Christian Empire and had devastated with unheard-of cruelty everything almost as far as the walls of Constantinople.”[155] But Gregory’s appeals brought about no material results, and no aid was sent from the West. Meanwhile, the pope became involved in the long and severe struggle for investiture with the German king Henry IV. At the time of the accession of Alexius Comnenus it became very evident that the westward movement of the Seljuqs was the deadliest menace to the Empire.


The Patzinaks.

            Toward the end of the Macedonian period the Patzinaks were the most dangerous northern enemies of the Byzantine Empire. The imperial government gave them permission to settle in the districts north of the Balkans, and bestowed Byzantine court ranks upon several Patzinak princes. But these measures provided no real solution to the Patzinak problem, first because the Patzinaks were unable to accustom themselves to a settled life, and also because new hordes of Patzinaks and their kinsmen, the Uzes, were continually arriving from beyond the Danube, directing their entire attention to the south, where they could raid Byzantine territory. Isaac Comnenus was very successful in opposing the advances of the Patzinaks, “who had crawled out of their caves.”[156] He restored Byzantine authority on the Danube, and was also able to offer strong opposition to the attacks of the Turks.

            In the time of Constantine Ducas the Uzes appeared on the Danube. “This was an actual migration; an entire tribe, numbering 600,000, with all its goods and chattels, was crowded on the left bank of the river. All efforts to prevent their crossing were in vain.”[157] The districts of Thessalonica, Macedonia, Thrace, and even Hellas became subject to terrible devastation. One contemporary Byzantine historian remarks even that “the entire population of Europe was considering (at that time) the question of emigration.”[158] When this terrible menace was removed the mass of people ascribed their relief to miraculous aid from above. Some of the Uzes even entered the Emperor’s service and received certain government lands in Macedonia. The Patzinaks and Uzes who served in the Byzantine army played an important part in the fatal battle at Manzikert.

            The new financial policy of Michael VII Ducas Parapinakes, who on the advice of his prime minister reduced the money gifts usually sent to the cities of the Danube, aroused unrest among the Patzinaks and Uzes of the Danubian districts. They formed an alliance with the nomads on the other side of the Danube, reached an agreement with one of the Byzantine generals who rebelled against the Emperor, and, together with other tribes, including perhaps the Slavs, moved on to the south, pillaged the province of Hadrianople, and besieged Constantinople, which suffered greatly from lack of provisions. At this critical moment Michael Parapinakes, under pressure of the Seljuq and Patzinak attacks, sent the appeal for aid to Pope Gregory VII.

            The skillful plotting of Byzantine diplomacy succeeded, apparently, in sowing discord among the allied forces which surrounded the capital. They raised the siege and returned to the banks of the Danube with rich spoils. By the end of this period the Patzinaks were active participants in the struggle between Nicephorus Botaniates and Alexius Comnenus for the Byzantine throne.

            The Uze and Patzinak problem was not settled in the time of troubles, which preceded the time of the Comneni dynasty. This northern Turkish menace, which at times threatened the capital itself, was handed down to the dynasty of the Comneni.


The Normans.

            Toward the end of the period of the Macedonian dynasty the Normans appeared in Italy, and, taking advantage of the internal difficulties in the Byzantine Empire and its breach with Rome, began to advance successfully into the southern Italian possessions of the Empire. The eastern government could do nothing against this menace because its entire forces were thrown into the struggle with the Seljuq Turks, who, together with the Patzinaks and Uzes in the north, seemed to be the natural allies of the Normans. To use the words of Neumann, “the Empire defended itself in Italy only with its left arm.”[159] A strong weapon of the Normans in their struggle with the Byzantine Empire was their fleet, which in a later period was a great aid to the Norman land forces. In the middle of the eleventh century the Normans had also a very capable leader in the person of Robert Guiscard, “who, from a chief of brigands, rose to the rank of a founder of an Empire.”[160]

            The main object of Robert Guiscard was the conquest of Byzantine southern Italy. Although the Byzantine Empire was confronted with many grave difficulties, the struggle in Italy in the fifties and sixties of the eleventh century progressed with alternating success. Robert conquered Brindisi, Tarentum, and Reggio (Rhegium); yet a few years later the first two cities were conquered by Byzantine troops sent to Bari, which numbered Varangians among their soldiers. In a later period of this struggle success was on the side of the Normans.

            Robert Guiscard besieged Bari, which was at that time the main center of Byzantine domination in southern Italy, and one of the most strongly fortified cities of the peninsula. It was only through cunning methods that, in the ninth century, the Muslims had succeeded in occupying Bari for a brief period of time. In the same century the city offered very stubborn resistance to the western Emperor Lewis II. Robert’s siege of Bari was a difficult military undertaking, greatly aided by the Norman fleet, which blockaded the port. The siege lasted about three years and ended in the spring of 1071, when Bari was compelled to yield to Robert.[161]

            The fall of Bari signified the end of Byzantine domination in southern Italy. From this very important point in Apulia Robert could quickly achieve the final conquest of the small remnants of Byzantine dominions in the inner parts of Italy, This conquest of southern Italy also set Robert’s forces free for the reconquest of Sicily from the Muslims.

            The subjection of southern Italy by the Normans did not destroy all of Byzantine influence. The admiration for the Eastern Empire, its traditions, and its splendor was still felt very strongly throughout the West. The Western Empire of Charlemagne, or that of Otto of Germany, represented in many ways a reflection of the eastern customs, ideas, and external living conditions sanctified by many centuries. The Norman conquerors of southern Italy, as represented by Robert Guiscard, must have felt a still greater fascination in the Byzantine Empire.

            Robert, the duke of Apulia, who considered himself the legal successor of the Byzantine emperors, preserved the Byzantine administrative organization in the conquered districts. Thus we find that Norman documents speak of the theme of Calabria, and indicate that cities were governed by strategi or exarchs and that the Normans were striving to attain Byzantine titles. The Greek language was preserved in the church services of Calabria, while in some districts Greek was used as the official language in the time of the Normans. Generally speaking, the conquerors and the conquered lived side by side, without merging, maintaining their own language, customs, and habits, The ambitious plans of Robert Guiscard went beyond the limited territories of southern Italy. Well aware of the internal weakness of the Byzantine Empire and her grave external difficulties, the Norman conqueror began to dream of seizing the imperial crown of the basileus.

            The fall of Bari in the spring of 1071 and the fatal battle of Manzikert in August of the same year make it evident that the year 1071 was one of the most important dates in the course of the whole Byzantine history. Southern Italy was definitely lost in the West, and in the East the domination of the Empire in Asia Minor was doomed. Territorially reduced and deprived of her main vital source, Asia Minor, the Eastern Empire considerably declined from the second half of the eleventh century. Notwithstanding some revival under the Comneni, the Empire was gradually yielding its political as well as its economic importance to the states of Western Europe.

            Emperor Michael VII Ducas Parapinakes fully understood the extent of Robert’s menace to the Empire and wanted to avert it by means of intermarriage between the two royal houses. The Emperor’s son became engaged to Robert’s daughter. But this did not seem to relieve the existing situation, and after Michael’s deposition the Normans resumed their hostilities against the Empire. At the time of the accession of the Comneni they were already preparing to transfer their military attacks from Italy to the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. The period of troubles which resulted in the retreat of imperial power on all borders of the Empire, both in Asia and in Europe, and which was characterized by almost incessant internal strife, left for the new dynasty of the Comneni a very difficult political heritage.


Education, learning, literature, and art.

            The time of the Macedonian dynasty, marked by stirring activity in the field of external and internal affairs, was also a period of intense development in the sphere of learning, literature, education, and art. This epoch witnessed the clearest exhibition of the characteristic traits of Byzantine learning, expressed in the progress of a closer union between secular and theological elements or the reconciliation of the ancient pagan wisdom with the new ideas of Christianity in the development of universal and encyclopedic knowledge, and finally, in the lack of original and creative genius. During this period the higher school of Constantinople was once more the center of education, learning, and literature, about which the best cultural forces of the Empire were gathered.

            Emperor Leo VI the Wise, a pupil of Photius, though not endowed with great literary genius, wrote several sermons, church hymns, and other works. His greatest service was expressed in his efforts to uphold the intellectual atmosphere created by Photius, so that, in the words of one historian, he “made for himself a place of honor in the history of Byzantine education in general, and of its ecclesiastical education in particular.”[162] Leo favored and protected all men of learning and letters; in his time “the imperial palace was sometimes transformed into a new academy and lyceum.”[163]

            The outstanding figure in the cultural movement of the tenth century was Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, who did much for the intellectual progress of Byzantium, not only by protecting education, but also by contributing many original writings. Constantine left all government affairs to Romanus Lecapenus, and devoted the greater part of his time to the field which interested him. He succeeded in becoming the heart of an intense literary and scholarly movement to which he contributed greatly by active participation. He wrote much, induced others to write, and attempted to raise the education of his people to a higher level. His name is closely connected with the erection of many magnificent buildings; he was passionately interested in art and music, and spent large sums of money on the compilation of anthologies from ancient writers.

            A large number of writings of the time of Constantine VII in the tenth century are preserved. Some of them were written by Constantine himself, others with his personal aid, while still others, in the form of anthologies of ancient texts and encyclopedias with extracts on various questions, were compiled at his suggestion. Among his works are his eulogistic biography of his grandfather, Basil I. Another work, On the Administration of the Empire, dedicated to his son and successor, contains interesting and valuable information about the geography of foreign countries, the relations of the Byzantine Empire with neighboring nations, and Byzantine diplomacy. This work opens with chapters on the northern peoples, the Patzinaks, Russians, Uzes, Khazars, Magyars (Turks), who, especially the first two, played a dominating part in the political and economic life of the tenth century. It also deals with Arabs, Armenians, Bulgarians, Dalmatians, Franks, southern Italians, Venetians, and some other peoples. The work contains also the names of the rapids of the Dnieper, given in two languages, “Slavonic” and “Russian,” that is, Scandinavian. It is one of the most important bases on which rests the theory of the Scandinavian origin of the first “Russianprinces. It was composed between 948 and 952 (or 951) and written in an order different from that of the modern published text. Bury, who wrote a special study on the treatise, called it a patchwork.[164] It gives, however, an impressive idea of the political, diplomatic, and economic power of the Empire in the tenth century.[165] Much geographical material is found also in his third work, On Themes, based partly on geographical works of the fifth and sixth centuries. It was also in his time that the large work On the Ceremonies of the Byzantine Court was compiled. This was primarily a detailed description of the complicated code of life at the imperial court, and might almost be considered as a book of “court regulations.” It was compiled chiefly on the basis of official court records of various periods, and the data found in it on baptism, marriage, coronation, burial of emperors, on various church solemnities, on the reception of foreign ambassadors, on the equipment of military expeditions, on offices and titles, and many other aspects of life form an invaluable source for the study, not only of the life at court, but also of the social life of the whole Empire. The Byzantine court ceremonial which sprang up and developed out of the court ceremonies of the late Roman Empire of the time of Diocletian and Constantine the Great later penetrated the court life of western Europe and the Slavonic states, including Russia. Even some of the court ceremonies of Turkey of the twentieth century bear traces of Byzantine influence. Constantine is also responsible for the lengthy account of the triumphant removal of the miraculous image of the Saviour from Edessa to Constantinople in the year 944. Popular tradition claimed that this image had been originally sent by Christ to the Prince of Edessa.

            From the circle of literary and scholarly men gathered about Constantine came the historian Joseph Genesius, the author of a history from the time of Leo V to that of Leo VI (813-86), and Theodore Daphnopates, who wrote a historical work which has not survived, some diplomatic letters, several sermons for Christian holidays, and a, number of biographies. At the instance of the Emperor, Constantine the Rhodian wrote a poetic description of the Church of the Apostles, which is especially valuable because it gives us a picture of this famous church which was later destroyed by the Turks.

            Among the encyclopedias which appeared under Constantine was the famous collection of Lives of Saints, compiled by Simeon Metaphrastes. To the early tenth century belongs also the Anthologia Palatina, compiled by Constantine Kephalas. It derives its name from the only manuscript, the Codex Palatinus, which is now at Heidelberg, Germany. The claim of some scholars that Constantine Kephalas was no other than Constantine the Rhodian should be considered improbable. The Anthologia Palatina is a large collection of short poems of both Christian and pagan times, and stands out as an example of the fine literary taste of the tenth century.[166]

            The time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus witnessed also the compilation of the famous Lexicon of Suidas. There is no information whatever on the life and personality of the author of this lexicon, which is the richest source for the explanation of words, proper names, and articles of general use. The literary and historical articles concerning works which have not come down to the present are of especially great value. In spite of many shortcomings, “the Lexicon of Suidas is a lofty monument of the compilatory diligence of Byzantine scholars at the time when the learned activity of the rest of Europe had completely declined. This was a new evidence of the wide extent to which the Byzantine Empire, in spite of all the internal and external upheavals, preserved and developed the remnants of ancient culture.”[167]

            Another eminent figure of the period of the Macedonian dynasty was Arethas, archbishop of Caesarea, in the early part of the tenth century. His broad education and profound interest in literary works, both ecclesiastic and secular, were reflected in his own writings. His Greek commentary on the Apocalypse, the first as far as is known, his notes on Plato, Lucian, and Eusebius, and finally his valuable collection of letters, preserved in one of the Moscow manuscripts and stilt unpublished, indicate that Arethas of Caesarea was an outstanding figure in the cultural movement of the tenth century.[168]

            Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus, well known for his active part in the ecclesiastical life of this period, left a valuable collection of over 150 letters. It contains messages written to the Arabian Emir of Crete, to Simeon of Bulgaria, to the popes, to Emperor Romanus Lecapenus, to bishops, monks, and various officials of civil administration. From them come materials on the internal and political history of the tenth century.

            Leo the Deacon, a contemporary of Basil II and an eyewitness of the events of the Bulgarian war, left a history in ten books which covers the time from 959-975 and contains accounts of the Arabian, Bulgarian, and Russian campaigns of the Empire. This history is all the more valuable because it is the only contemporary Greek source dealing with the brilliant period of Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces. The work of Leo the Deacon is also invaluable for the first pages of Russian history because of the extensive data on Sviatoslav and his war with the Greeks.

            The monograph of John Cameniates, a priest of Thessalonica, on the Arabian conquest of Thessalonica in 904, of which Cameniates was an eyewitness, has already been mentioned.

            Among the chroniclers of this period was the anonymous continuator of Theophanes (Theophanes Continuarus), who described events from 813 to 961 on the basis of the works of Genesius, of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and of the continuator of George Hamartolus. The question of the identity of the author of this compilation is still unsolved.[169]

            The group of chroniclers of the tenth century are usually represented by four men: Leo the Grammarian, Theodosius of Melitene, the anonymous Continuator of George Hamartolus, and Symeon Magister and Logothete, the so-called Pseudo-Symeon Magister. But these are not original writers; all of them were copyists, abbreviators, or revisers of the Chronicle of Symeon Logothete, whose complete Greek text has not yet been published. There is, however, a published Old Slavonic version of it so that a fairly good idea can be formed of the unpublished Greek text.[170]

            To the tenth century belongs also a very interesting figure in the history of Byzantine literature, John Kyriotes, generally known by his surname, Geometres. The height of his literary activity falls in the time of Nicephorus Phocas, John Tzimisces, and Basil II. The first of these was his favorite hero. He left a collection of epigrams and occasional poems, a work in verse on ascetism (Paradise), and some hymns in honor of the Holy Virgin. His epigrams and occasional poems are closely related to the important political events of his time, such as the deaths of Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimisces, the insurrection of Bardas Sclerus and Bardas Phocas in his poem The Rebellion, the Bulgarian war, etc. All these are of special interest to the student of this period. One poem on his journey from Constantinople to Selybria, through districts which had seen military action, gives a strikingly forceful and pathetic picture of the sufferings and ruin of the local peasantry.[171] Krumbacher was undoubtedly right when he said that John Geometres belongs to the best aspect of Byzantine literature.[172] Many of his poems deserve translation into modern tongues. His prose works, of a rhetorical, exegetical, and oratorical character, are less interesting than his poems.

            During the reign of Nicephorus Phocas also the pseudo-Lucianic Dialogue, Philopatris was compiled. This, it has been said, represents “a Byzantine form of humanism,” and for the tenth century reveals “a renaissance of Greek spirit and classical tastes.”[173]

            One of the best of Byzantine poets, Christopher of Mytilene, who has only recently become well known, flourished in the first half of the eleventh century. His short works, written mainly in iambic trimeter in the form of epigrams or addresses to various persons, including a number of contemporary emperors, are distinguished by graceful style and fine wit.[174]

            In the tenth century, when Byzantine civilization was experiencing a period of brilliant development, representatives of the barbarian West came to the Bosphorus for their education. But at the end of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh centuries, when the entire attention of the Empire was concentrated upon campaigns which raised the Empire to the pinnacle of its military fame, intellectual and creative activity declined somewhat. Basil II treated scholars with disdain. Anna Comnena, a writer of the twelfth century, remarks that “from the reign of Basil Porphyrogenitus (i.e., Basil II Bulgar-octonus) until that of (Constantine) Monomachus, learning was neglected by the majority of the people, but did not go down entirely, and later rose again.”[175] Separate individuals continued to work diligently and spend long nights over books by the light of lamps.[176] But higher education with government support on a wide scale was revived only in the middle of the eleventh century under Constantine Monomachus, when a group of scholars, headed by the young Constantine Psellus, aroused the Emperor’s interest in their projects and exerted much influence at court. Heated disputes began concerning the nature of the reforms of the higher school. While one party wanted a law school, the other demanded a philosophical school, i.e., a school for general education. The agitation constantly increased, and even assumed the aspect of street demonstrations. The Emperor found a good way out of the situation by organizing both a philosophical faculty and a school of law. The founding of the university followed in 1045. The Novel dealing with the founding of the law school has been preserved. The philosophical department, headed by the famous scholar and writer, Psellus, taught philosophy and aimed at giving its student a broad general education. The law school was a sort of juridical lyceum or academy.

            A strong need was felt by the Byzantine government for educated and experienced officials, especially jurists. In the absence of special legal schools, young men gained their knowledge of law from practicing jurists, notaries, and lawyers, who very seldom possessed deep and extensive knowledge in this field. The juridical lyceum founded in the time of Constantine Monomachus was to aid in meeting this urgent need. The lyceum was directed by John Xiphilin, a famous contemporary and friend of Psellus. As before, education was free of charge. The professors received from the government good salaries, silk garments, living provisions, and Easter gifts. Admission was free for all those who desired to enter, regardless of social or financial status, providing they had sufficient preparation. The Novel on the founding of the juridical academy gives an insight into the government’s views on education and juridical knowledge. The law school of the eleventh century had distinctly practical aims, for it was expected to prepare skillful officials acquainted with the laws of the Empire.[177]

            The head of the philosophy school, Constantine Psellus, usually known by his monastic name of Michael, was born in the first half of the eleventh century. Through his excellent education, wide knowledge, and brilliant ability he rose very high in the esteem of his contemporaries and became one of the most influential personalities in the Empire. He was invited to the court, and there he was given important offices and high titles. At the same time he taught philosophy and rhetoric to a large number of students. In one of his letters Psellus wrote: “We have enthralled the Celts [i.e., the peoples of western Europe] and Arabs; and they have resorted to our glory even from the two continents; the Nile irrigates the land among the Egyptians, and my tongue [irrigates] their spirit … One of the peoples calls me a light of wisdom, another, a luminary, and the third has honored me with the most beautiful names.”[178] Following the example of his friend John Xiphilin, the head of the law academy, he took the monastic habit under the name of Michael and spent some time in a monastery. But solitary monastic life did not appeal to Psellusnature. He left the monastery and returned to the capital, resuming his important place at court. Toward the end of his life he rose to the high post of prime minister. He died near the end of the eleventh century, probably in the year 1078.[179]

            Living as he did in the time of unrest and decline of the Empire, accompanied by frequent changes on the throne which often meant changes in policy, Psellus showed great ability in adjusting himself to the changing conditions of life. During his service under nine emperors he continued to rise in rank and grow in influence. Psellus did not hesitate to use flattery, sub-serviency, or bribes in order to build up his own well-being. It cannot therefore be said that he possessed very high moral qualities, although in this regard he was not different from a large number of men of that troubled and difficult period.

            He possessed many qualities however which placed him far above his contemporaries. He was a highly educated man who knew much, read extensively, and worked assiduously. He achieved much in his lifetime and left many works on theology, philosophy (in which he followed Plato), natural sciences, philology, history, and law, and he wrote some poetry, a number of orations, and many letters. The History of Psellus, describing events from the death of John Tzimisces until the last years of the author’s life (976-1077), is a very valuable source for the history of the eleventh century, in spite of certain prejudices in the account. In all his literary activity Psellus was a representative of secular knowledge imbued with Hellenism. It is very apparent that he was not modest in his opinions of himself. In his chronography he wrote, “I was certified that my tongue has been adorned with flowers even in simple utterances; and without any effort natural sweetness falls in drops from it.”[180] Elsewhere Psellus said that Constantine IXadmired his eloquence exceedingly, and his ears were always attracted to his tongue;” that Michael VIadmired him profoundly and tasted, as it behooves, the honey which flowed from his lips;” that Constantine Xfilled himself with his words as with nectar;” that Eudociaregarded him as a God.”[181] Historians still disagree in their appraisal of the personality and activity of Psellus. And yet there seems to be little doubt that he must have occupied as high a place in the Byzantine cultural life of the eleventh century as Photius did in the ninth century, and Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the tenth.[182]

            The time of the Macedonian dynasty, especially the tenth century, is viewed as the period of the development of Byzantine epic poetry and Byzantine popular songs, whose chief hero was Basil Digenes Akrites. The intense life on the eastern border with its almost incessant warfare offered a wide field for brave deeds and dangerous adventures. The deepest and most durable impression was left in the memory of the people by the hero of these border provinces, Basil Digenes Akrites. The true name of this epic hero was, apparently, Basil; Digenes and Akrites were only surnames. The nameDigenesmay be translated as “born of two peoples,” and originated because his father was a Muhammedan Arab and his mother a Christian Greek. Digenes was usualiy applied to children born of parents of different races. Akrites (plural Akritai) was a name applied during the Byzantine period to the defenders of the outermost borders of the Empire, from the Greek word akra (ακρα), meaningborder.” The Akritai sometimes enjoyed a certain amount of independence from the central government, and are compared with the western European markgraves (meaning rulers of the borderlands, marches) and with the cossacks of the ukraina (meaning border, also) in the history of Russia.

            The epic hero Digenes Akrites devoted all of his life to the struggle with the Muslims and Apelatai. The latter name, which originally meant “those who drive away the cattle,” and later simplyrobbers,” was applied on the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire to mountain robbers, “those bold fellows, strong in spirit and body, half robbers and half heroes,”[183] who scorned the authority of the Emperor and the caliph, and devastated the lands of both. In times of peace these robbers were fought by the joint efforts of Christians and Muslims, while in times of war each side strove to gain the support of these daring men. Rambaud said that in the border districts “one felt far removed from the Byzantine Empire, and it might have seemed that one was not in the provinces of an enlightened monarchy, but in the midst of the feudal anarchy of the West.”[184]

            On the basis of various hints found throughout the epic of Digenes Akrites it may be asserted that the real event on which it is based took place in the middle of the tenth century in Cappadocia and in the district of the Euphrates. In the epic Digenes accomplishes great deeds and fights for the Christians and the Empire; in his conception orthodoxy and Romania (the Byzantine empire) are inseparable. The description of Digenespalace gives a closer view of the magnificence and wealth found in the midst of the large landowners of Asia Minor so strongly resented by Basil II Bulgaroctonus. The original prototype of Digenes Akrites, however, has been said to be not Christian but the half-legendary champion of Islam, Saiyid Battal Ghazi, whose name is connected with the battle at Acroïnon in 740. The name of Digenes remained popular even in the later years of the Byzantine Empire. Theodore Prodromus, the poet of the twelfth century, when attempting to give due praise to Emperor Manuel Comnenus, could not find a better tide for him than “the new Akrites.”[185]

            According to Bury, “As Homer reflects all sides of a certain stage of early Greek civilization, as the Nibelungenlied mirrors the civilization of the Germans during the period of the migrations, so the Digenes cycle presents a comprehensive picture of the Byzantine world in Asia Minor and of the frontier life.”[186] This epic has survived the Byzantine Empire. Even today the people of Cyprus and Asia Minor sing of the famous Byzantine hero.[187] Near Trebizond travelers are still shown his grave, which, according to popular tradition, is supposed to protect the newly born against evil spells. In its contents the epic resembles very closely well-known western European epic legends, such as the Song of Roland of the time of Charlemagne, or The Cid, both of which also grew out of the struggle between Christianity and Muhammedanism.

            The epic of Digenes Akrites is preserved in several manuscripts, the oldest of which belongs to the fourteenth century.[188] The study of it has recently entered a new phase in the illuminating researches initiated by H. Grégoire and brilliantly carried out by his collaborators, M. Canard and R. Goossens. It is almost certain that the historical prototype of Digenes was Diogenes, the turmarchus of the theme of Anatolici, in Asia Minor, who fell in 788 fighting against the Arabs. Many elements of the poem date from the events of the tenth century, when the Byzantine troops established themselves on the Euphrates and the tomb of Digenes, near Samosata, was identified about 940. Extremely interesting connections have been discovered between the Byzantine epic and Arabian and Turkish epics, and even with the Tales of the Thousand-and-One Nights. This epic, with its historical background and ramifications in the field of Oriental epics, presents one of the most fascinating problems of Byzantine literature.[189]

            Byzantine epics in the form of popular ballads have been reflected in Russian epic monuments, and the epic of Digenes Akritas has its place there. In ancient Russian literature The Deeds and Life of Digenes Akrites appears; this was known even to the Russian historian, Karamzin (early nineteenth century), who at first viewed it as a Russian fairy tale. It was of no little importance in the development of old Russian literature, for old Russian life and letters were profoundly affected by Byzantine influence, both ecclesiastical and secular. It is interesting to note that in the Russian version of the poem on Digenes there are sometimes episodes which have not yet been discovered in its Greek texts.[190]

            The intellectual and artistic life of the Empire in the difficult and troubled times continued to develop along the lines of the Macedonian period. The activity of Michael Psellus, for instance, was not interrupted. This alone may serve as an indication of the fact that the cultural life of the country did not cease to exist. Psellus was favored by the accidental rulers of the period as much as he was by the representatives of the Macedonian house.

            Among the notable writers of this period was Michael Attaliates. He was born in Asia Minor, but later migrated to Constantinople and there chose a legal and juristic career. His surviving works belong to the field of history and jurisprudence. His history, embracing the period from 1034 to 1079, based on personal experience, gives a true picture of the time of the last Macedonian rulers and the years of the troubled period. The style of Michael Attaliates already showed evidences of the artificial renaissance of classicism which became so widespread under the Comneni. The law treatise of Michael, derived entirely from the Basilics, enjoyed very great popularity. His aim was to edit a very brief manual of law accessible to all. Highly valuable data on the cultural life of the Byzantine Empire in the eleventh century are found in the statute compiled by Michael for the poorhouse and monastery he founded. This statute contains an inventory of the property of the poorhouse and monastery which included, among other things, a list of books donated to the monasterial library.

            The time of the Macedonian dynasty is of great importance for the history of Byzantine art. The period from the middle of the ninth century until the twelfth century, i.e., including the period of the subsequent dynasty of the Comneni, is characterized by scholars as the second Golden Age of Byzantine Art, the first Golden Age being the time of Justinian the Great. The iconoclastic crisis liberated Byzantine art from stifling ecclesiastic and monastic influences and indicated new paths outside of religious subjects. These paths led to the return to the traditions of early Alexandrian models, to the development of ornament borrowed from the Arabs and therefore closely related to the ornament of Islam, and to the substitution for ecclesiastical subjects of historical and profane motives, which were treated with greater realism. But the artistic creations of the epoch of the Macedonian dynasty did not limit themselves to merely borrowing or copying these subjects; it introduced something of its own, something original.


The revived Greek style of the Macedonian and Comnenian periods was able to contribute something more than the physical grace of the fourth-century Hellenistic manner; it had gathered to itself much of the gravity and strength of an earlier age. These qualities imposed themselves upon Middle Byzantine expression. Their influence excluded the clumsy forms of the sixth century, which continued only in religious centers in remote provinces where the power of the capital wss not felt. They lent a dignity and graciousness, a restraint and balance, an undisturbed refinement which became characteristics of Byzantine design in its maturer period. They grew into harmony with religious emotion; they had a seriousness which the work of Hellenistic times had not possessed. Though there may be exaggeration in saying that in its later centuries Byzantine art was systematically and progressively hellenized, it is certain that a thorough and complete orientalization was no longer possible.[191]


The famous Austrian art historian, J. Strzygowski, attempted to prove a theory which is closely connected with the epoch of the Macedonian dynasty. In his opinion the accession of the first ruler of this dynasty, an Armenian by birth, marked a new stage in the history of Byzantine art, namely, the period of the direct influence of Armenian art upon the artistic efforts of Byzantium. In other words, in place of the older notion that Armenia was under the strong influence of Byzantine art, Strzygowski attempted to prove the very opposite. It is true that Armenian influence was strongly felt in the time of the Macedonian dynasty, and that many Armenian artists and architects worked in Byzantium. The New Church, built by Basil I, may have reproduced an Armenian plan; when in the tenth century the dome of St. Sophia was damaged by an earthquake, it was to an Armenian architect, builder of the cathedral of Ani in Armenia, that the work of restoration was entrusted. But though in Strzygowski’s theories, as Ch. Diehl said, there are “many ingenious and seductive things,” they cannot be accepted in full.[192]

            Basil I was a great builder. He erected the New Church, the Nea, which was as important an event in Basil’s constructive policy as the erection of St. Sophia in that of Justinian. He constructed a new palace, the Kenourgion, and decorated it with brilliant mosaics. Basil I also restored and adorned St. Sophia and the Church of the Holy Apostles. St. Sophia, damaged by the earthquake of 989, was also the object of the care of the emperors of the tenth and eleventh centuries.

            Under the Macedonian emperors there appeared for the first time the imperial ikon-painting schools, which not only produced large numbers of ikons and decorated the walls of churches, but also engaged in illustrating manuscripts. In the time of Basil II appeared the famous Vatican Menologium, or Menology, with beautiful miniaturesillustrations carried out by eight illuminators whose names are inscribed on the margins.[193] To this epoch belong also many other interesting, original, and finely executed miniatures.

            The main center of artistic developments was the city of Constantinople, but the Byzantine provinces of that period have also preserved important monuments of art, such as the datedChurch of Skripu” (A.D. 874), in Boeotia; a group of churches on Mount Athos, dating from the tenth or early eleventh, century; St. Luke of Stiris in Phocis (the early eleventh century); Nea Moni on Chios (the middle of the eleventh century), the monastery church of Daphni in Attica (the end of the eleventh century). In Asia Minor the numerous rock-cut churches of Cappadocia have preserved a large number of extremely interesting frescoes, many of which belong to the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries. The discovery and study of these Cappadocian frescoes, which “revealed an astonishing wealth of mural painting,”[194] are closely connected with the name of the G. de Jerphanion, S.I., who devoted most of his life to the minute investigation of Cappadocia, “a new province of Byzantine art.”[195]

            The influence of Byzantine art of the Macedonian period extended beyond the boundaries of the Empire. The most recent painting in the famous Santa Maria Antica at Rome, assigned to the ninth or tenth centuries, may take a place with the best products of the Macedonian Renaissance.[196] St. Sophia of Kiev (A.D. 1037), in Russia, as well as many other Russian churches, belong also to the “Byzantinetradition of the epoch of the Macedonian emperors.

            The most brilliant period of the Macedonian dynasty (867-1025) was also the best time in the history of Byzantine art from the point of view of artistic vitality and originality. The subsequent period of troubles and the time of the Comneni, beginning with the year 1081, witnessed the rise of an entirely different, drier, and more rigid art.


The Byzantine standards, which had been carried (in the time of Basil II) into Armenia, were by degrees withdrawn; those of the Seljuq Turks advanced. At home there reigned the spirit of immobility which finds its expression in ceremonies and displays, the spirit of an Alexius Comnenus and his court. All this was reflected in the art or the century preceding the invasion of the Crusaders from the West. The springs of progress dried up; there was no longer any power of organic growth; the only change now possible was a passive acceptance of external forces. Religious fervor was absorbed in formal preoccupations. The liturgical system, by controlling design, led to the production of manuals, or painter’s guides, in which the path to be followed was exactly traced; the composition was stereotyped; the very colors were prescribed.[197]





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