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History of the Byzantine empire
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Marcianinherited from his predecessor a very complicated state of affairs in the church. The Monophysites were now triumphant. Marcian, favoring the stand taken by the first two ecumenical councils, could not become reconciled to this triumph, and in the year 451 he called the Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon, which proved to be of great importance for all subsequent history. The number of delegates to this council was very large and included legates representing the pope.
The council condemned the acts of the Robber Council of Ephesus and deposed Dioscorus. Then it worked out a new religious formula completely rejecting the doctrine of the Monophysites and wholly according with the views of the Pope of Rome. The Council affirmed “one and the same Christ in two natures without confusion or change, division or separation.” The dogmas approved by this Council of Chalcedon, triumphantly confirming the main doctrines of the first ecumenical councils, became the basis of the religious teachings of the orthodox church.
The decisions of the Council of Chalcedon were also of great political significance in Byzantine history. The Byzantine government, by openly opposing Monophysitism in the fifth century, alienated the eastern provinces, Syria and Egypt, where the majority of the population was Monophysitic. The Monophysites remained true to their religious doctrine even after the condemnations of the council of 451 and were unwilling to make any compromises. The Egyptian church abolished the use of Greek in its services and introduced the native Egyptian (Coptic) language. The religious disturbances in Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch caused by the forced introduction of the decisions of the council assumed the character of serious national revolts and were suppressed by the civil and military authorities only after much bloodshed. The suppression of these revolts, however, did not settle the fundamental problems of the period. Against the background of the conflicting religious disputes, which became more and more acute, clearly defined racial contradictions, particularly in Syria and Egypt, began to appear. The Egyptian and Syrian native populations were gradually becoming convinced of the desirability of seceding from the Byzantine Empire. The religious disturbances in the eastern provinces, aided by the composition of the population, created toward the seventh century conditions which facilitated the transfer of these rich and civilized districts into the hands of first the Persians and later the Arabs.
The twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Chalcedon, which called forth a correspondence between the Emperor and the pope, was also of great importance. Although not confirmed by the pope, this canon was generally accepted in the East. It raised the question of the rank of the patriarch of Constantinople in relation to the Pope of Rome, a question already decided by the third canon of the Second Ecumenical Council. Following this decision, the twenty-eighth canon of the Chalcedon council gave “equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome, rightly judging that the city which is honored with the Sovereignty and the Senate and enjoys equal privileges with the old Imperial Rome should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her.” Furthermore, the same canon granted the archbishop of Constantinople the right to ordain bishops for the provinces of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, inhabited by people of various tribes. “It is sufficient to recall,” said Th. I. Uspensky, “that these three names embraced all the Christian missions in the East, in southern Russia, and in the Balkan peninsula, as well as all those acquisitions of the eastern clergy which could eventually be made in the indicated districts. At least, this is the opinion of later Greek canonists who defended the rights of the Constantinopolitan patriarch. Such, in brief, is the universal historical significance of the twenty-eighth canon.” Both Marcian and Leo I, then, were emperors of strict orthodox mind.
Zeno (474-91). Odovacar and Theodoric the Ostrogoth.
After the death of Leo I (474) the throne passed to his six-year-old grandson, Leo, who died in the same year, after conferring the imperial rank upon his father, Zeno. Following the death of his son, Zeno became sole emperor (474-91). His accession to the throne marks the supplanting of the former Germanic influence at the court by a new barbarian influence, that of the Isaurians, a savage race of which he was a member. The Isaurians now occupied the best positions and most responsible posts in the capital. Very soon Zeno became aware that even among his own people men were plotting against him, and he showed much determination in quelling the revolt in mountainous Isauria, ordering the inhabitants to pull down the greater part of their fortifications. The dominance of Isaurians in the Empire continued, however, throughout Zeno’s lifetime.
During the period of Zeno’s reign very significant events took place in Italy. In the second half of the fifth century the importance of the leaders of German troops increased very greatly until their will was almost decisive in making and deposing Roman emperors in the West. In the year 476 one of these barbarian chiefs; Odovacar, deposed the last western emperor, the young Romulus Augustulus, and himself became the ruler of Italy. In order to make his rule in Italy more secure, he sent ambassadors to Zeno from the Roman Senate with the assurance that Italy needed no separate emperor and that Zeno might be the ruler of the entire Empire. At the same time Odovacar asked Zeno to confer upon him the rank of Roman patrician and to entrust to him the administration of Italy. This request was granted and Odovacar became the legally appointed ruler of Italy. The year 476 formerly was considered the year of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but this is not correct, because in the fifth century there was still no separate Western Roman Empire. There was, as before, one Roman Empire ruled by two emperors, one in the eastern, the other in the western, part. In the year 476 there was again only one emperor in the Empire, namely Zeno, the ruler of the eastern part.
Upon becoming the ruler of Italy, Odovacar assumed an attitude of marked independence. Zeno was fully aware of it; unable to struggle against Odovacar openly, he decided to act through the Ostrogoths. The latter, after the collapse of the power of Attila, remained in Pannonia and, under the leadership of their king, Theodoric, carried on devastating raids in the Balkan peninsula, menacing even the capital of the Empire. Zeno succeeded in directing the attention of Theodoric to the rich provinces of Italy, thus attaining a double aim: He got rid of his dangerous northern neighbors and settled his disagreements with the undesirable ruler of Italy through the efforts of an outside party. In any event, Theodoric in Italy was less of a menace to Zeno than he would have been had he remained in the Balkan peninsula.
Theodoric moved on to Italy, defeated Odovacar, seized his principal city, Ravenna, and after Zeno’s death, founded his Ostrogothic kingdom on Italian territory with the capital at Ravenna. The Balkan peninsula was thus definitely freed from the Ostrogothic menace.
The main internal problem during the reign of Zeno was the religious problem, which continued to cause many disturbances. In Egypt and Syria and to some extent in Palestine and Asia Minor, the population held firmly to the doctrine of one nature. The firm orthodox policy of the two emperors who preceded Zeno was little applauded in the eastern provinces. The leaders of the church were fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, who at first favored the decisions of Chalcedon, and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Peter Mongus, were particularly anxious to find some way of reconciling the dissenting parties in the church. They proposed to Zeno that he attempt to reach some mutual agreement by means of compromises on both sides. Zeno accepted this proposal and issued in 482 the Act of Union, or the Henoticon (ενωτικον), addressed to the churches subject to the Patriarch of Alexandria. In this act he tried above all to avoid any sign of disrespect toward either the orthodox or the Monophysitic teachings on the union in Jesus Christ of two natures, the divine and the human. The Henoticon recognized as entirely sufficient the religious foundations developed at the first and second ecumenical councils and ratified at the third council; it anathematized Nestorius and Eutyches, as well as all their followers, and stated that Jesus Christ was “of the same nature with the Father in the Godhead and also of the same nature with us in the manhood.” Yet it obviously avoided the use of the phrases “one nature” or “two natures” and did not mention the statement of the Council of Chalcedon in regard to the union of two natures in Christ. The Council of Chalcedon is mentioned in the Henoticon only once, in this statement: “And here we anathematize all who have held, or hold now or at any time, whether in Chalcedon or in any other synod whatsoever, any different belief.”
At first the Henoticon seemed to improve conditions in Alexandria, but in the long run it failed to satisfy either the orthodox or the Monophysites. The former could not become reconciled to the concessions made to the Monophysites; the latter, in view of the lack of clarity in the statements of the Henoticon, considered the concessions insufficient, and new complications were thus introduced into the religious life of the Byzantine Empire. The number of religious parties increased. Part of the clergy favored the idea of reconciliation and supported the Act of Union, while the extremists in both the orthodox and the Monophysitic movements were unwilling to make any compromise. These firmly orthodox men were called the Akoimetoi, that is “the Sleepless,” because the services in their monasteries were held continuously during the day and night, so that they had to divide their groups into three relays; the extreme Monophysites were called the Akephaloi, that is “the Headless,” because they did not recognize the leadership of the Alexandrian Patriarch, who accepted the Henoticon. The Pope of Rome also protested against the Henoticon. He analyzed the complaints of the eastern clergy, dissatisfied with the decree, then studied the Act of Union itself and decided to excommunicate and anathematize the Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, at a council gathered in Rome. In reply Acacius ceased to mention the pope in his prayers. This was in reality the first true breach between the eastern and western churches; it continued until the year 518, when Justin I ascended the throne. Thus the political breach between the eastern and western parts of the Empire, in evidence since the founding in the fifth century of the barbarian German kingdoms in the West, became wider during the reign of Zeno because of the religious secession.
Anastasius I (491-518).
Settlement of the Isaurian problem. The Persian War. Bulgarian and Slavic attacks. The Long Wall. Relations with the West. — Following the death of Zeno, his widow, Ariadne, chose the aged Anastasius, a native of Dyrrachium, who held the rather minor court position of silentiary (silentiarius). Anastasius was crowned as emperor only after he had signed a written promise not to introduce any ecclesiastical innovations, a promise extracted by the Patriarch of Constantinople, an ardent adherent of the Council of Chalcedon.
Anastasius’ first problem was to settle with the Isaurians, who had acquired so much authority during the reign of Zeno. Their privileged position irritated the population of the capital and when it was also discovered that after the death of Zeno they were plotting against the new Emperor, Anastasius acted with dispatch. He removed them from the responsible posts, confiscated their property, and drove them out of the capital. A long and hard struggle followed this action, and only after six years of fighting were the Isaurians completely subjugated in their native Isauria. Many of them were transported to Thrace. The great service of Anastasius was this decisive settlement of the Isaurian problem.
Among external events, in addition to the exhausting and profitless war with Persia, the state of affairs on the Danube boundary was of great consequence to subsequent history. After the departure of the Ostrogoths to Italy, devastating raids against the northern boundary were undertaken by the Bulgarians, Getae, and Scythians during the reign of Anastasius I. The Bulgarians, who raided the borders of Byzantine territory during the fifth century, were a people of Hunnic (Turkish) origin. They are first mentioned in the Balkan peninsula during the reign of Zeno in connection with the Ostrogothic migrations north of the Byzantine Empire.
As to the rather vague names of Getae and Scythians, the chroniclers of that period were not well informed about the ethnographic composition of the northern peoples; hence it is very likely that these were collective names, and historians consider it probable that some Slavic tribes were included among them. Theophylact, the Byzantine writer of the early seventh century, directly identified the Getae with the Slavs. Thus, during the reign of Anastasius, the Slavs, together with the Bulgarians, first began their irruptions into the Balkan peninsula. According to one source, “a Getic cavalry” devastated Macedonia, Thessaly, and Epirus, and reached as far as Thermopylae. Some scholars have even advanced the theory that the Slavs entered the Balkan peninsula at an earlier period. The Russian scholar Drinov, for example, on the basis of his study of geographical and personal names in the peninsula, placed the beginning of Slavic settlement in the Balkan peninsula in the late second century A.D.
The attacks of the Bulgarians and Slavs during the reign of Anastasius were not of very great consequence for that epoch, for these bands of barbarians, after robbing the Byzantine population, went back to the places from, which they came. Yet these raids were the forerunners of the great Slavic irruptions into the Balkan peninsula in the sixth century during the reign of Justinian.
In order to protect the capital against the northern barbarians, Anastasius erected in Thrace, about forty miles west of Constantinople, the so-called “Long Wall” which extended from the Sea of Marmora to the Black Sea, “making the city,” said one source, “practically an island instead of a peninsula.” This wall did not fulfill the purpose for which it was erected, however. Because of its hurried construction and the breaches made by earthquakes it did not serve as a real barrier to the enemy’s approach to the city walls. The modern Turkish fortifications of the Chatalja lines erected in almost the same place pretty closely approximate the Anastasian wall, traces of which may still be seen today.
In western Europe further important changes were taking place in the time of Anastasius. Theodoric became the king of Italy; and in the far north-west Clovis founded a strong Prankish kingdom even before Anastasius ascended the throne. Both these kingdoms were established on territory which theoretically belonged to the Roman, in this case the Byzantine, emperor. Quite naturally, the distant Frankish kingdom could in no way be dependent upon Constantinople; yet in the eyes of die conquered natives the power of the newcomers had real authority only after official approval from the shores of the Bosphorus. So it was that when the Goths proclaimed Theodoric king of Italy “without waiting,” said a contemporary chronicler, “for directions from the new princeps [Anastasius],” Theodoric nevertheless asked the latter to send him the insignia of imperial power previously returned to Zeno by Odovacar. After long negotiations and the sending of several envoys to Constantinople, Anastasius recognized Theodoric as the ruler of Italy, and the latter then became the legal sovereign in the eyes of the native population. The Arian beliefs of the Goths stood in the way of a closer friendship between the Goths and the natives of Italy.
To Clovis, the king of the Franks, Anastasius sent a diploma conferring upon him the consulship, which Clovis accepted with gratitude. This, of course, was only an honorary consulship, which did not involve the exercise of the duties of the position. Nevertheless it was of great importance to Clovis. The Roman population in Gaul looked upon the eastern emperor as the bearer of supreme authority, who alone could bestow all other power. The diploma of Anastasius conferring the consulship proved to the Gallic population the legality of Clovis’ rule over them. It made him a sort of viceroy of the province, which theoretically still remained a part of the Roman Empire.
These relations of the Byzantine emperor with the Germanic kingdom show clearly that in the late fifth and early sixth centuries the idea of a single empire was still very strong.
The religious policy of Anastasius. The rebellion of Vitalian. Internal reforms — In spite of the promise of the Patriarch of Constantinople not to introduce any ecclesiastical innovations, Anastasius in his religious policy favored Monophysitism; somewhat later, he openly sided with the Monophysites. This act was greeted with joy in Egypt and Syria, where Monophysitism was widespread. In the capital, however, the Monophysitic leanings of the Emperor aroused great confusion and when Anastasius, following the example of Antioch, ordered that the Trisagion (“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”) be chanted with the addition of the words “who wast crucified for us,” (that is, “Holy God, Holy Strong One, Holy Immortal One, crucified for us, be merciful to us”), great disturbances took place in Constantinople and almost brought about the deposition of the Emperor.
This religious policy of Anastasius led to the rebellion of Vitalian in Thrace. At the head of a large army composed of Huns, Bulgarians, and perhaps Slavs, and aided by a large fleet, Vitalian advanced toward the capital. His aim was political; he wished to depose the Emperor. But to the world he announced that he rose to defend the oppressed orthodox church. After a long and strenuous struggle the rebellion was finally suppressed. This revolt was of no little importance in history. “By three times bringing his heterogeneous troops close to Constantinople and by obtaining from the government enormous sums of money,” said Th. I. Uspensky, “Vitalian revealed to the barbarians the weakness of the Empire and the great riches of Constantinople, and taught them something about combined movement on land and sea.”
The internal policy of Anastasius, not yet sufficiently studied or evaluated in historical literature, was marked by intense activity and affected important economic and financial problems of the Empire.
One of his very important financial reforms was the abolition of the hated chrysargyron, a tax paid in gold and silver (in Latin it was called lustralis collatio, or sometimes by a fuller name, lustralis auri argentive collatio). This tax, from as far back as the early part of the fourth century, applied to all the handicrafts and professions in the Empire, even to servants, beggars, and prostitutes. It was levied, perhaps, even on the tools and livestock of the farmers, such as horses, mules, donkeys, and dogs. The poor classes suffered particularly from the burden of the chrysargyron. Officially, this tax was supposed to be collected only once in five years, but in reality the date for its collection was set by the administration arbitrarily and unexpectedly, and these frequent collections at times drove the population to despair. In spite of the large income poured into the government treasury from this tax, Anastasius definitely abolished it and publicly burned all the documents connected with it. The population greeted the abolition of the tax with great joy; to describe this imperial favor, according to one historian of the sixth century, one “needs the eloquence of Thucydides or something still more lofty and graceful,” A Syriac source of the sixth century described the joy with which the edict of abolition was received in the city of Edessa:
The whole city rejoiced, and they all put on white garments, both small and great, and carried lighted tapers and censers full of burning incense, and went forth with psalms and hymns, giving thanks to God and praising the emperor, to the church of St. Sergius and St. Simeon, where they celebrated the eucharist. They then re-entered the city and kept a glad and merry festival during the whole week, and enacted that they should celebrate this festival every year. All the artisans were reclining and enjoying themselves, bathing and feasting in the court of the great Church and in all the porticos of the city.
The amount raised by the chrysargyron at Edessa was 140 pounds of gold every four years. The abolition of this tax gave special satisfaction to the church, because, by participating in the earnings of prostitutes, the tax implicitly gave legal sanction to vice.
Of course the abolition of the chrysargyron deprived the exchequer of considerable revenue but this loss was very soon made good by the introduction of a new tax, the chrysoteleia (χρυσοτελεια), a “gold tax,” or “a tax in gold,” or a tax in cash instead of kind. It was apparently a land tax, which Anastasius applied to the support of the army. This also weighed heavily on the poorer classes, so that the whole financial reform had in view a more regular distribution of tax burdens rather than a real diminution of them. Perhaps the most important financial reform of Anastasius was the abolition, upon the advice of his trusted praetorian prefect, the Syrian Marinus, of the system under which the town corporations (curiae) were responsible for collecting the taxes of the municipalities; Anastasius assigned this task to officials named vindices, who probably were appointed by the praetorian prefect. Although this new system of collecting the taxes increased the revenue considerably, it was modified in following reigns. Under Anastasius the problem of sterile lands seems to have become more acute than ever. The burden of additional taxation fell on persons unable to pay, as well as on the unproductive land. The owners of productive land thus became responsible for the full payment of taxes to the government. This additional assessment, called in Greek “epibole” (επιβολη) that is, “increase,” “surcharge,” was a very old institution going back to Ptolemaic Egypt. It was enacted with particular firmness during the reign of Justinian the Great. Anastasius also decreed that a free peasant-tenant, who had lived in the same place for thirty years, became a colonus, a man attached to the soil, but he did not lose his personal freedom and right to own property.
The time of Anastasius I was marked also by the great currency reform. In the year 498 the large bronze follis with its smaller denominations was introduced. The new coinage was welcome, especially to the poorer citizens, for the copper money in circulation had become scarce, was bad in quality, and had no marks of value. The new coins were struck at the three mints which were in operation under Anastasius, at Constantinople, Nicomedia, and Antioch. The bronze coinage introduced by Anastasius remained the model of imperial currency until about the second half of the seventh century.
To his list of humanitarian reforms Anastasius added a decree forbidding fights between men and beasts in the circus.
Although Anastasius often granted tax reductions to many provinces and cities, especially those in the East devastated by the Persian War, and although he carried out a building program including the Long Wall, aqueducts, the lighthouse of Alexandria, and other projects, the government toward the end of his reign still possessed a large reserve which the historian Procopius estimated, perhaps with some exaggeration, at 320 thousand pounds of gold, equivalent to about $65,000,000 or $70,000,000. The economy of Anastasius was of great importance to the abundant activities of his second successor, Justinian the Great. The time of Anastasius was a splendid introduction to the Justinian epoch.
The main interest of the epoch beginning with Arcadius and ending with Anastasius (395-518) lies in the national and religious problems and in the political events, which were always closely connected with the religious movements. The Germanic, or, to be more exact, the Gothic, tyranny grew very strong in the capital and menaced the entire state in the late fourth century. This was further complicated by the Arian leanings of the Goths. This menace decreased at the beginning of the fifth century under Arcadius and was completely removed by Leo I at the time of its later and much weaker outburst in the middle of the fifth century. Then, at the end of the century, came the new Ostrogothic menace from the north, which was successfully diverted by Zeno into Italy. Thus the Germanic problem in the eastern part of the Empire was settled to the advantage of the government.
The eastern part of the Empire was also successful in achieving in the second half of the fifth century a favorable settlement of the less acute and significant national problem, that of the Isaurian predominance. The Bulgarians and Slavs were only beginning their attacks upon the borders of the Empire during this period and it was not yet possible to foretell the great role which these northern peoples were destined to play in the history of the Byzantine Empire. The period of Anastasius may be viewed as only an introduction to the Slavic epoch in the Balkan peninsula.
The religious problem of this epoch fails into two phases: the orthodox, up to the time of Zeno, and the Monophysitic, under Zeno and Anastasius. Zeno’s favorable attitude towards the Monophysitic doctrine and the explicit Monophysitic sympathies of Anastasius were important not only from the dogmatical point of view but from the political point of view as well. By the end of the fifth century the western part of the Empire, in spite of a theoretically recognized unity, had practically detached itself from Constantinople. In Gaul, in Spain, and in northern Africa new barbaric kingdoms were formed; Italy was practically ruled by German chiefs, and at the end of the fifth century the Ostrogothic kingdom was founded on Italian territory. This state of affairs explains why the eastern provinces — Egypt, Palestine, and Syria — became of exceptionally great importance to the eastern half of the Empire. The great merit of both Zeno and Anastasius lies in the fact that they understood that the center of gravity had shifted and, appreciating the importance of the eastern provinces, they used every possible means to find a way of binding them to the capital. Since these provinces, especially Egypt and Syria, were in general devoted to the Monophysitic doctrine, there could be only one course for the Empire — to make peace with the Monophysites at any cost. This explains Zeno’s evasive and purposely rather obscure Henoticon. It was one of the first steps toward the reconciliation with the Monophysites. When this attempt failed to bring results, Anastasius decided to follow a very definite Monophysitic policy. Both these emperors were politically perspicacious rulers as compared with the emperors of the subsequent period. In their Monophysitic policy both were confronted by the orthodox movement, widely supported in the capital, in the Balkan peninsula, in most of the provinces of Asia Minor, in the islands, and in some portions of Palestine. Orthodoxy was also defended by the pope, who broke off all relations with Constantinople because of the Henoticon. The inevitability of the collision between politics and religion explains the internal religious upheavals during the reign of Anastasius. He did not succeed in bringing about during his lifetime the desired peace and harmony within the Empire. His successors, moreover, led the Empire along an entirely different path, and alienation of the eastern provinces was already beginning to be felt at the end of this period.
On the whole this was a period of struggle on the part of the different nationalities, spurred by greatly differing aims and hopes; the Germans and the Isaurians wanted to attain political supremacy, while the Copts in Egypt and the Syrians were concerned primarily with the triumph of their religious doctrines.
The developments in literature, learning, and education during the period from the fourth to the beginning of the sixth century are closely connected with the relations established between Christianity and the ancient pagan world with its great culture. The debates of the Christian apologists of the second and third centuries on the question of whether or not it was permissible for a Christian to use pagan materials brought no definite conclusion. While some of the apologists found merit in Greek culture and considered it reconcilable with Christianity, others denied that pagan antiquity was of any significance to the Christian and repudiated it. A different attitude prevailed in Alexandria, the old center of heated philosophic and religious disputes, where discussions on the compatibility of ancient paganism with Christianity tended to draw together these two seemingly irreconcilable elements. Clement of Alexandria, for example, the famous writer of the late second century, said: “Philosophy, serving as a guide, prepares those who are called by Christ to perfection.” Still, the problem of the relation between pagan culture and Christianity was by no means settled by the debates of the first three centuries of the Christian era.
But life did its work, and pagan society was gradually being converted to Christianity, which received a particularly great impetus in the fourth century. It was aided on the one hand by the protection of the government, and on the other by the numerous so-called “heresies,” which awakened intellectual disputes, aroused passionate discussions, and created a series of new and important questions. Meanwhile Christianity was gradually absorbing many of the elements of pagan culture, so that, according to Krumbacher, “Christian topics were being unconsciously clothed in pagan garb.” Christian literature of the fourth and fifth centuries was enriched by the works of great writers in the field of prose as well as that of poetry. At the same time the pagan traditions were continued and developed by representatives of pagan thought.
In the wide realm of the Roman Empire, within the boundaries which existed until the Persian and Arabian conquests of the seventh century, the Christian Orient of the fourth and fifth centuries had several distinct, well-known literary centers, whose representative writers exerted great influence far beyond the limits of their native cities and provinces. Cappadocia, in Asia Minor, had in the fourth century the three famous “Cappadocians,” Basil the Great, his friend Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa, younger brother of Basil. Important cultural centers in Syria were the cities of Antioch and Berytus (Beirut) on the seacoast; the latter was particularly famous for studies in the field of law, and the time of its brilliance lasted from about 200 to 551 A.D. In Palestine, Jerusalem had at this time not yet completely recovered from the destruction during the reign of Titus, and consequently it did not play a very significant part in the cultural life of the fourth and fifth centuries. But Caesarea, and toward the end of the fourth century, the southern Palestinian city of Gaza, with its flourishing school of famous rhetoricians and poets, contributed much to the treasures of thought and literature in this period. But above all these the Egyptian city of Alexandria still remained the center which exerted the widest and deepest influence upon the entire Asiatic Orient. The new city of Constantinople, destined to have a brilliant future in the time of Justinian, was only beginning to show signs of literary activity. Here the official protection of the Latin language, somewhat detached from actual life, was particularly pronounced. Of some importance to the general cultural and literary movements of this epoch were two other western centers of the eastern Empire, Thessalonica and Athens, the latter with its pagan academy, eclipsed in later years by its victorious rival, the University of Constantinople.
A comparison of the cultural developments in the eastern and the western provinces of the Byzantine Empire reveals an interesting phenomenon: in European Greece, with its old population, spiritual activity and creativeness were infinitely small in comparison with developments in the provinces of Asia and Africa, despite the fact that the greater part of these provinces, according to Krumbacher, were “discovered” and colonized only from the time of Alexander the Great. The same scholar, resorted to “our favorite modern language of numbers,” and asserted that the European group of Byzantine provinces was responsible for only ten per cent of the general cultural productivity of this period. In truth, the majority of writers of this epoch came from Asia and Africa, whereas after the founding of Constantinople almost all the historians were Greeks. Patristic literature had its brilliant period of development in the fourth, and the early part of the fifth, century.
The Cappadocians Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus received an admirable education in the best rhetorical schools of Athens and Alexandria. Unfortunately, no definite information exists about the early education of Basil’s younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa, the most profound thinker of the three. They were all well acquainted with classical literature and represented the so-called “new Alexandrian” movement. This movement, while using the acquisitions of philosophical thinking, insisting upon a place for reason in the study of religious dogma, and refusing to adopt the extremes of the mystical-allegorical movement of the so-called “Alexandrian” school, still did not discard the church tradition. In addition to the wealth of literary works on purely theological subjects wherein they ardently defend orthodoxy in its struggle with Arianism, these three writers left also a large collection of orations and letters. This collection constitutes one of the richest sources of cultural material for the period and even yet it has not been fully exhausted from a historical point of view. Gregory of Nazianzus also left a number of poems, which are chiefly theological, dogmatical, and didactic but are also somewhat historical. His long poem About His Own Life should by reason of form and content take a high place in the field of literature in general. Brilliant as they were, these three writers were the only representatives of their city. “When these three noble geniuses had passed away, Cappadocia returned into the obscurity from which they had drawn it.”
Antioch, the Syrian center of culture, produced in opposition to the Alexandrian school its own movement, which defended the literal acceptance of the Holy Scriptures without allegorical interpretations. This movement was headed by such unusual men of action as the pupil of Libanius and favorite of Antioch, John Chrysostom. He combined thorough classical education with unusual stylistic and oratorical ability and his numerous works constitute one of the world’s great literary treasures. Later generations fell under the spell of his genius and high moral qualities, and literary movements of subsequent periods borrowed ideas, images, and expressions from his works as from an unlimited source. So great was his reputation that in the course of time many works of unknown authors have been ascribed to him; but his authentic works, sermons, and orations and more than two hundred letters, written mainly during his exile, represent an extremely valuable source regarding the internal life of the Empire. The attitude of posterity is well characterized by a Byzantine writer of the fourteenth century, Nicephorus Callistus, who wrote; “I have read more than a thousand sermons by him, which pour forth unspeakable sweetness. From my youth I have loved him and listened to his voice as if it were that of God. And what I know and what I am, I owe to him.”
From the Palestinian city of Caesarea came the “father of ecclesiastical history,” Eusebius, who lived in the second half of the third century and the early part of the fourth century. He died about the year 340. He has been cited earlier as the chief authority on Constantine the Great. Eusebius lived on the threshold of two highly significant historical epochs: on one hand, he witnessed the severe persecutions of Diocletian and his successors and suffered much personally because of his Christian convictions; on the other hand, after the Edict of Galerius he lived through a period of gradual triumph of Christianity under Constantine and participated in the Arian disputes, inclining sometimes to the Arians. He later became one of the greatly trusted and intimate friends of the Emperor. Eusebius wrote many theological and historical works. The Evangelic Preparation (Ευαγγελικη προπαρασκευη, Praeparatio evangelica), the large work in which he defends the Christians against the religious attacks of the pagans, The Evangelic Demonstration (Ευαγγελικη αποδειξις, Demonstratio evangelica), in which he discusses the merely temporal significance of the Mosaic law and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament by Jesus Christ, his writings in the field of criticism and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, as well as several other works entitle him to a high place of honor in the field of theological literature. These works also contain valuable extracts from older writings which were later lost.
For this study the historical writings of Eusebius are of greater importance. The Chronicle, written apparently before Diocletian’s persecutions, contains a brief survey of the history of the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans and in its main portion gives chronological tables of the most important historical events. Unfortunately it has survived only through an Armenian translation and partly through a Latin adaptation of St. Jerome. Thus no accurate conception of the form and contents of the original exists today, especially since the translations which have survived were made not from the original Greek, but from an adaptation of The Chronicle which appeared soon after Eusebius’ death.
His outstanding historical work is the Ecclesiastical History, ten books covering the period from the time of Christ to the victory of Constantine over Licinius. According to his own statement, he did not aim to tell of wars and the trophies of generals, but rather to “record in ineffaceable letters the most peaceful wars waged in behalf of the peace of the soul, and to tell of men doing brave deeds for truth rather than country, for piety rather than dearest friends.” Under the pen of Eusebius, church history became the history of martyrdom and persecutions, with all the accompanying terror and atrocities. Because of its abundance of documentary data, his history must be recognized as one of the very important sources for the first three centuries of the Christian era. Besides, Eusebius was important also because he was the first to write a history of Christianity, embracing that subject from all possible aspects. His Ecclesiastical History, which brought him much fame, became the basis for the work of many later church historians and was often imitated. As early as the fourth century it became widely spread in the West through the Latin translation of Rufinus.
The Life of Constantine, written by Eusebius at a later period — if it was written by him at all — has called forth many varied interpretations and evaluations in the scholarly world. It must be classed not so much among the purely historical types of writing as among the panegyrics. Constantine is represented as a God-chosen emperor endowed with the gift of prevision, a new Moses destined to lead God’s people to freedom. In Eusebius’ interpretation the three sons of Constantine personified the Holy Trinity, while Constantine himself was the true benefactor of the Christians, who now attained the high ideal of which they had only dreamed before. In order to keep the-harmony of his work intact, Eusebius did not touch upon the darker sides of the epoch, did not reveal the sinister phenomena of his day, but rather gave full sway to the praise and glorification of his hero. Yet, by a skillful use of this work one may gain much valuable insight into the period of Constantine, especially because it contains many official documents which probably were inserted after the first version was written. In spite of his mediocre literary ability, Eusebius must be considered one of the greatest Christian scholars of the early Middle Ages and a writer who greatly influenced medieval Christian literature.
A whole group of historians continued what Eusebius had begun. Socrates of Constantinople carried his Ecclesiastical History up to the year 439; Sozomen, a native of the district near the Palestinian city of Gaza, was the author of another Ecclesiastical History, also up to the year 439; Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus, a native of Antioch, wrote a similar history covering the period from the Council of Nicaea until the year 428; and, finally, the Arian Philostorgius, whose works have survived only in fragments, narrated events up to the year 425 from his own Arian point of view.
The most intense and varied intellectual life during this period was to be found in Egypt, especially in its progressive center, Alexandria.
An unusual and interesting figure in the literary life of the late fourth and early fifth centuries was Synesius of Cyrene. A descendant of a very old pagan family, educated in Alexandria and later introduced to the mysteries of the neo-Platonic philosophy, he shifted his allegiance from Plato to Christ, married a Christian girl, and became bishop of Ptolemaïs during the last years of his life. In spite of all this, Synesius probably always felt more of a pagan than a Christian. His mission to Constantinople and his address “on Kingship” show his interest in politics. He was not essentially a historian, yet he left extremely important historical materials in 156 letters which reflect his brilliant philosophic and rhetorical attainments and which set the standard of style for the Byzantine Middle Ages. His hymns, written in the meter and style of classical poetry, reveal a peculiar mixture of philosophical and Christian views. This bishop-philosopher felt that the classical culture so dear to him was gradually approaching its end.
During the long and harsh struggle with Arianism appeared the brilliant figure of the ardent Nicaean, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who left a number of writings devoted to theological disputes in the fourth century. He also wrote the Life of St. Anthony, one of the founders of eastern monasticism, painting in it an ideal picture of ascetic life. This work greatly influenced the spread of monasticism. To the fifth century belongs also the greatest historian of Egyptian monasticism, Palladius of Helenopolis, born in Asia Minor, but well acquainted with Egyptian monastic life because of a sojourn of about ten years in the Egyptian monastic world. Under the influence of Athanasius of Alexandria, Palladius once more presented the ideals of monastic life, introducing into his history an element of legend. The ruthless enemy of Nestorius, Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, also lived during this period. During his stormy and strenuous life he wrote a large number of letters and sermons which the Greek bishops of a later period sometimes learned by heart. He also left a number of dogmatic, polemical, and exegetic treatises which serve as one of the main sources on the ecclesiastical history of the fifth century. According to his own confession, his rhetorical education was insufficient and he could not pride himself upon the Attic purity of his style.
Another extremely interesting figure of this epoch is the woman philosopher, Hypatia, who was killed by the fanatical mob of Alexandria some time in the early part of the fifth century. She was a woman of exceptional beauty and unusual intellectual attainments. Through her father, a famous Alexandrian mathematician, she became acquainted with the mathematical sciences and classical philosophy. She gained wide fame through her remarkable activities as a teacher. Among her pupils were such great literary men as Synesius of Cyrene, who mentions the name of Hypatia in many of his letters. One source told how, “clothed in a mantle, she used to wander about the city and expound to willing listeners the works of Plato, Aristotle, or some other philosopher.”
Greek literature flourished in Egypt until the year 451, when the Council of Chalcedon condemned the Monophysitic doctrine. Since this doctrine was the official Egyptian religion, the action of the council was followed by the abolition of Greek from the church and the substitution of the Coptic language in its stead. The Coptic literature which developed after this is of some importance even to Greek literature, because certain original Greek works which have been lost are preserved at present only through their Coptic translations.
This period saw the development of the literature of religious hymns. The hymn writers gradually abandoned their original practice of imitating classical meters and developed forms of their own. These forms were quite original and for some time were considered merely as prose. It is only in comparatively recent times that these meters have been even partially explained. They are marked by various types of acrostics and rhymes. Unfortunately very little is known of the religious hymns of the fourth and fifth centuries and the history of their gradual development is therefore obscure. Yet it is quite apparent that this development was vigorous. While Gregory the Theologian followed the antique meters in most of his poetical hymns, Romanus the Melode (“Hymn-writer”), whose works appeared in the early sixth century under Anastasius I, used the new forms and made use of acrostics and rhyme.
Scholars have long disputed as to whether Romanus lived in the sixth or in the early eighth century. His brief Life alludes to his arrival at Constantinople during the reign o£ the Emperor Anastasius, but for a long time it was impossible to determine whether this was Anastasius I (491-518) or Anastasius II (713-16). The scholarly world, however, after a long study of the works of Romanus, has definitely agreed that he referred to Anastasius I. Romanus the Melode is sometimes called the greatest poet of the Byzantine period. This “Pindar of rhythmical poetry, “ “the greatest religious genius,” “the Dante of the neo-Hellenes,” is the author of a large number of superb hymns among which is the famous Christian hymn, “Today the Virgin Brings Forth the Supersubstantial.” The poet was born in Syria, and it is very probable that the flowering of his genius occurred during the reign of Justinian, for according to his Life he was a young deacon when he came, during the rule of Anastasius, from Syria to Constantinople, where he miraculously acquired from heaven the gift of writing hymns. The finished work of Romanus in the sixth century seems to indicate that religious poetry in the fifth century had reached a high stage of development; unfortunately the data is inadequate on this point. It is certainly difficult to conceive the existence of this unusual poet in the sixth century without some previous development of church poetry. Unfortunately, also, he cannot be appreciated fully because most of his hymns are still unpublished.
Lactantius, an eminent Christian writer from north Africa in the early part of the fourth century, wrote in Latin. He is particularly important as the author of De mortibus persecutorum. This work gives very interesting information on the time of Diocletian and Constantine down to the so-called rescript of Milan.
The Christian literature of this period is represented by many remarkable authors, but pagan literature does not lag far behind. Among its representatives, too, were a number of gifted and interesting men, one of whom is Themistius of Paphlagonia, who lived in the second half of the fourth century. He was the philosophically educated director of the school of Constantinople, the court orator, and a senator highly esteemed by both pagans and Christians. He wrote a large collection of “Paraphrases of Aristotle,” in which he sought to clarify the more complicated ideas of the Greek philosopher. He is the author also of about forty orations which give abundant information about the important events of the period as well as about his own personal life. The greatest of all the pagan teachers of the fourth century was Libanius of Antioch, who influenced his contemporaries more than any other man of the period. Among his pupils were John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus, and his lectures were studied enthusiastically by the young Julian before he ascended the throne. Libanius’ sixty-five public addresses are of particular interest and provide abundant material about the internal life of the time. Of no lesser importance is the collection of his letters, which in richness of content and remarkable spirit may be compared with the letters of Synesius of Cyrene.
The Emperor Julian was an extremely brilliant figure in the intellectual life of the fourth century, and despite the brevity of his career he clearly demonstrated his talent in various departments of literature. His orations, reflecting his obscure philosophical and religious speculations, such as his appeal “To the King Sun;” his letters; his “Against the Christians,” which is preserved in fragments only; his satirical Misopogon (“The Beardhater”), written against the people of Antioch, important as a biographical source — all these reveal Julian as a gifted writer, historian, thinker, satirist, and moralist. The extent to which his writings were interwoven with the actual realities of the period should be emphasized. The early and sudden death of this young emperor prevented the full development of his unusual genius.
Pagan literature of the fourth and fifth centuries is represented also by several writers in the field of pure history. Among the most significant was the author o£ the very well-known collection of biographies of Roman emperors written in Latin in the fourth century and known under the title of Scriptores Historiae Augustae. The identity of its author, the time of its compilation, and its historical significance are all debatable and have produced an enormous literature.” But in 1923 an English historian wrote: “The time and labour spent upon the Augustan history ... are overwhelming and their results, so far as any practical use for history goes, are precisely nil.” N. Baynes recently made a very interesting attempt to prove that this collection was written under Julian the Apostate with a definite object: propaganda for Julian, his whole administration and religious policy. This point of view has not been accepted by scholars.
Priscus of Thrace, a historian of the fifth century and a member of the embassy to the Huns, was another who made significant contributions. His Byzantine History, which has survived in fragments, and his information on the life and customs of the Huns are both extremely interesting and valuable. In fact, Priscus was the main source on the history of Attila and the Huns for the Latin historians of the sixth century, Cassiodorus and Jordanes. Zosimus, who lived in the fifth century and early part of the sixth, wrote The New History, bringing his account down to Alaric’s siege of Rome in the year 410. As an enthusiastic believer in the old gods he explained that the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by the anger of the gods at being forsaken by the Romans and he blamed Constantine the Great above all. His opinion of Julian was very high. According to a recent writer, Zosimus is not only a historian of the “decline of Rome” but: he is also a theoretician of the republic which he defends and glorifies; he is the sole “republican” of the fifth century.
Ammianus Marcellinus, a Syrian Greek born in Antioch, wrote at the end of the fourth century his Res Gestae, a history of the Roman Empire in Latin. He intended it to be a continuation of the history of Tacitus, bringing the account through the period from Nerva to the death of Valens (96-378). Only the last eighteen books of this history have survived, covering historical events during the period 353-378. The author profited from his harsh military experience in Julian’s campaigns against the Persians and has given firsthand information about contemporary events. Although he remained a pagan to the end of his life, he showed great tolerance toward Christianity. His history is an important source for the period of Julian and Valens, as well as for Gothic and early Hunnic history. His literary genius has been very highly estimated by recent scholars. Stein called him the greatest literary genius in the world between Tacitus and Dante, and N. Baynes called him the last great historian of Rome.
Athens, the city of declining classical thought, was in the fifth century the home of the last distinguished representative of neo-Platonism, Proclus of Constantinople, who taught and wrote there for a long period of years. It was also the birthplace of the wife of Theodosius II, Eudocia Athenais, who possessed some literary ability and wrote several works.
Western European literature of this period, which was brilliantly represented by the remarkable works of St. Augustine and several other gifted writers of prose and poetry, is not discussed here.
After the transfer of the capital to Constantinople, Latin still remained the official language of the Empire during the fourth and fifth centuries. It was used for all the imperial decrees collected in the Theodosian code as well as for the later decrees of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth centuries. But in the curriculum of the higher school at Constantinople in the time of Theodosius II there was a decline of the predominance of Latin and a definite preference for Greek, which was, after all, the most widely spoken language in the eastern part of the Empire. The Greek tradition was also upheld by the Athenian pagan school.
The time from the fourth to the sixth centuries is one when various elements were gradually blending into a new art which bears the name of Byzantine or East-Christian. As the science of history probes more deeply into the roots of this art, it becomes increasingly clear that the East and its traditions played the predominant part in the development of Byzantine art. By the end of the nineteenth century German scholars advanced the theory that the “art of the Roman Empire” (Römische Reichskunst), which had developed in the West during the first two centuries of the Empire, replaced the old Hellenistic culture of the East, which was in a state of decline, and, so to speak, laid the cornerstone for Christian art of the fourth and fifth centuries. At present this theory is repudiated. Since the appearance in 1900 of the famous work of D. V. Aïnalov, Hellenistic Origin of Byzantine Art, and the publication in 1901 of the remarkable work of the Austrian scholar J. Strzygowski, Orient or Rome, the problem of the origin of Byzantine art has assumed an entirely new form; it is taken for granted that the main role in the development of East-Christian art belongs to the East, and the problem is only that of determining what is to be understood by the term “East” and eastern influences. In a large number of very stimulating works the tireless Strzygowski argued the enormous influence exerted by the ancient Orient. At first he sought the center of this influence in Constantinople; later he turned to Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria, and moving still farther to the east and north, he crossed the borders of Mesopotamia and sought the roots of the main influences in the plateau and mountains of Altaï-Iran and in Armenia. He contended, “What Hellas was to the art of antiquity, that Iran was to the art of the new Christian world.” He drew also upon India and Chinese Turkestan for further elucidation of the problem. While recognizing his great services in investigating the origin of Byzantine art, contemporary historical science is still very cautious with regard to his most recent hypotheses.
The fourth century was an extremely important period in the history of Byzantine art. The new status of the Christian faith in the Roman Empire, first as a legal religion and later as the state religion, furthered the rapid growth of Christianity. Three elements — Christianity, Hellenism, and the Orient — met in the fourth century, and out of their union grew what is known as East-Christian art.
Having been made the political center of the Empire, Constantinople gradually became also the intellectual and artistic center. This did not happen at once. “Constantinople had no established pre-existing culture to resist or to control the influx of exotic forces; she had first to balance and assimilate new influences, a task which required at least a hundred years.”
Syria and Antioch, Egypt guided by Alexandria, and Asia Minor, reflecting in their artistic life the influences of more ancient traditions, exerted a very strong and beneficial influence on the growth of East-Christian art. Syrian architecture flourished throughout the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. The magnificent churches of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, as well as some churches at Nazareth, were erected as early as the reign of Constantine the Great. Unusual splendor characterized the churches of Antioch and Syria. “Antioch, as the center of a brilliant civilization, naturally assumed the leadership of Christian art in Syria.” Unfortunately for a long time very little data was available on the art of Antioch, and it is only recently that its beauty and importance have become better known. The “dead cities” of central Syria uncovered in 1860 and 1861 by M. de Vogue give some conception of what Christian architecture of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries was like. One of the most remarkable products of the end of the fifth century was the famous monastery of St. Simeon Stylites (Kalat Seman), located between Antioch and Aleppo, impressive even today in its majestic ruin. The well-known frieze of Mschatta, east of the Jordan, now in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum of Berlin, is apparently also a work of the fourth, fifth, or sixth centuries. To the beginning of the fifth century belongs a beautiful basilica in Egypt erected by the Emperor Arcadius over the grave of Menas, a renowned Egyptian saint. Its ruins have only recently been excavated and studied by C. M. Kaufmann. In the field of mosaics, portraiture, textiles (figured silks of early Christian times), and so forth, several interesting products of the early part of the Byzantine period exist.
The city walls which surrounded Constantinople in the fifth century have survived to the present day. The Golden Gate (Porta Aurea), through which the emperors made their official entry into Constantinople, was built at the end of the fourth century or the early part of the fifth; remarkable for its architectural splendor, it is still in existence.
With the name of Constantine is bound up the erection of the Church of St. Irene and the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople. St. Sophia, the construction of which might have begun in his time, was completed in the time of his son Constantius. These churches were reconstructed in the sixth century by Justinian. In the fifth century another church embellished the new capital, the Basilica of St. John of Studion, which is now the mosque Mir-Achor djami.
A number of monuments of early Byzantine art have been preserved in the western parts of the Empire. Among these are some churches at Thessalonica (Salonika); Diocletian’s palace at Spalato, in Dalmatia (early fourth century); some paintings in S. Maria Antiqua at Rome, dating apparently from the end of the fifth century; the mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the orthodox baptistery at Ravenna (fifth century); and some monuments in North Africa.
In the history of art the fourth and fifth centuries may be viewed as the preparatory period for the epoch of Justinian the Great, when “the capital had attained a full self-consciousness and had assumed to itself a directive power,” the epoch which has been justly described as the First Golden Age of Byzantine Art.