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Margins and Metropolis

Margins and Metropolis: Authority across the Byzantine Empire

Judith Herrin
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Margins and Metropolis
    Book Description:

    This volume explores the political, cultural, and ecclesiastical forces that linked the metropolis of Byzantium to the margins of its far-flung empire. Focusing on the provincial region of Hellas and Peloponnesos in central and southern Greece, Judith Herrin shows how the prestige of Constantinople was reflected in the military, civilian, and ecclesiastical officials sent out to govern the provinces. She evokes the ideology and culture of the center by examining different aspects of the imperial court, including diplomacy, ceremony, intellectual life, and relations with the church. Particular topics treat the transmission of mathematical manuscripts, the burning of offensive material, and the church's role in distributing philanthropy.

    Herrin contrasts life in the capital with provincial life, tracing the adaptation of a largely rural population to rule by Constantinople from the early medieval period onward. The letters of Michael Choniates, archbishop of Athens from 1182 to 1205, offer a detailed account of how this highly educated cleric coped with life in an imperial backwater, and demonstrate a synthesis of ancient Greek culture and medieval Christianity that was characteristic of the Byzantine elite.

    This collection of essays spans the entirety of Herrin's influential career and draws together a significant body of scholarship on problems of empire. It features a general introduction, two previously unpublished essays, and a concise introduction to each essay that describes how it came to be written and how it fits into her broader analysis of the unusual brilliance and longevity of Byzantium.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4522-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    This book and its companion volume,Unrivalled Influence: Women and Empire in Byzantium, bring together forty years of research and writing about the Byzantine Empire. Each chapter has been very lightly edited and notes selecting some of the most important, relevant new publications have been added. At my publisher’s suggestion I have also introduced each essay with a personal account of how I came to write it and who and what influenced me in doing so.

    Each volume traces a historian’s journey across the Byzantine Empire. This one maps my research into its political and intellectual power and authority, the...


      (pp. 3-32)

      At the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries AD the history of Greece enters a period that is perhaps the least well documented since the development of Greek script and written records. The early medieval period has been aptly characterized as the “Great Breach” in Greek history. For the first time historical documents are almost completely lacking; archaeological evidence is also sparse; outside sources present little information. While a similar trend is clear throughout the Mediterranean world from the late sixth to the late eighth centuries, giving rise to the epithet “The Dark Ages,” the label does not assist...

    • 2 Aspects of the Process of Hellenization in the Early Middle Ages
      (pp. 33-57)

      In the winter months of AD 905–6 Arethas, Archbishop of Caesarea, unwillingly made the difficult journey from Constantinople to the Byzantine province of Hellas, central Greece.¹ The official reason for this visit was to reconsecrate several churches that had been defiled and pillaged by raiders, probably Bulgars, but there was another reason why the vociferous archbishop should be removed from the capital. In September 905 Zoe, mistress of the Emperor Leo VI, had given birth to a child Constantine, Leo’s first son and heir.² While this event was joyfully celebrated by the entire court, it provoked dismay and alarm...

    • 3 Realities of Provincial Government: HELLAS AND PELOPONNESOS, 1180–1205
      (pp. 58-102)

      The Byzantine Empire was governed through a complex administrative system, predominantly military in nature, within which civilian and ecclesiastical sectors played a significant role, though one definitely subordinated to the essential needs of the empire’s defense. Studies of the administrative structure rely heavily on lists of officials and their honorary titles, and on records of persons attending important functions at court, which reflect the significance attached to particular posts and the seniority of offices. Based on these lists, a whole hierarchy of ranks can usefully be drawn up, but little about the working of Byzantine administration can be reconstructed. Even...

    • 4 The Ecclesiastical Organization of Central Greece at the Time of Michael Choniates: NEW EVIDENCE FROM THE CODEX ATHENIENSIS 1371
      (pp. 103-110)

      In this brief chapter I discuss the state of the church in Central Greece at the time when Michael Choniates was Metropolitan of Athens (1182–1205). In particular, I examine episcopal organization as it is reflected in theCodex Atheniensis 1371. This manuscript contains aNotitia episcopatuum(list of metropolitans and bishops subject to the patriarchate of Constantinople), which has not so far received sufficient attention.

      To establish the ecclesiastical sees in Central Greece at the end of the twelfth century, it is necessary to distinguish between severalNotitiae, which present confused and often contradictory evidence. Their reliability can be...

    • 5 The Collapse of the Byzantine Empire in the Twelfth Century: A STUDY OF A MEDIEVAL ECONOMY
      (pp. 111-129)

      In many respects the Byzantine state machinery of the tenth to twelfth centuries was extremely sophisticated; it directed a systematic foreign policy and maintained a developed network of diplomatic relations with neighboring powers; it controlled the minting and circulation of a stable gold currency, and it ran a complex bureaucratic administration. Important social controls also existed, in the form of a hierarchy of honorific titles and positions attached to the imperial court, and in the regulations governing the wearing of certain robes and silks of different colors and the carrying of certain arms and insignia to which the great Byzantine...

    • 6 Byzantine Kythera
      (pp. 130-156)

      During the early Christian and Byzantine era, the island of Kythera maintained the same close connection to the mainland that had existed from the time of the Argive–Spartan rivalry. The introduction of Christianity in the fourth century AD was allegedly due to Hosia Elesse, and its tenth-century revival was almost certainly the responsibility of Hosios Theodoros, who like Hosia Elesse came from the Peloponnese. Following these “saintly” people, settlers came from the mainland to repopulate Kythera after its devastation or abandonment. At first the inhabitants of Laconia used the island as a hunting ground, but later they settled permanently.¹...


    • 7 Byzantium: THE PALACE AND THE CITY
      (pp. 159-178)

      In the East Roman Empire the words “palace” and “city” generally had only one meaning—the Great Palace of the emperors in the city of Constantine, inaugurated in 330 AD and named Constantinople after him. Although it took many years for this dominance to take hold, by the Middle Ages there were no rivals and no equivalents in the West. The imperial capital contained the largest concentration of population in the medieval world (though a few Asian cities were larger, and during the tenth century Baghdad would overtake it). But this ruling city, the Queen City, was far larger than...

    • 8 Philippikos and the Greens
      (pp. 179-191)

      Ever since the publication of Alan Cameron’s book on the circus factions, it has been agreed that the Blues and Greens played a much less political role after the tumultuous reigns of Maurice and Phokas.¹ Herakleios (610–41) diverted their energies into the far more manageable and benign roles of court entertainment: music and dancing, which had already been expanded in the sixth century. Together with the choirs of the major city churches, they were invited to bring their organs into the palace to provide musical entertainment.² Members of the factions were instructed to perform dances at important banquets, presumably...

    • 9 Philippikos “the Gentle”
      (pp. 192-205)

      In the summer of 695 Justinian II suffered the fate of many young rulers in Byzantium. After provoking considerable opposition to his arbitrary decisions, the emperor was taken prisoner by troops loyal to Leontios, general of the Anatolikon theme. He was publicly humiliated in the Hippodrome, mutilated in such a way that made it unlikely he could ever rule again, and then exiled to the Crimea. As is well known, the slitting of his nose and tongue did not deter him, and Justinian returned to power in 705 with the help of Khazar and Bulgar allies. Together with his new...

    • 10 The Historical Context of Iconoclast Reform
      (pp. 206-219)

      The early eighth century was a time when the Byzantine Empire was in danger of total collapse. From 695 to 717 internal conflicts threatened to divide the empire, while Muslim forces seemed poised ready to capture Constantinople itself. This troubled period is therefore crucial to an analysis of Byzantium during the first outbreak of iconoclasm.

      The first reign of Justinian II, the last ruling member of the Heraclian dynasty, ended in a palace coup of 695, which established a usurper, Leontios, as emperor.¹ This event was the first of many similar upheavals that followed with all too regular repetition, making...

    • 11 Constantinople, Rome, and the Franks in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries
      (pp. 220-238)

      At the beginning of the seventh century relations between Constantinople and Rome followed the model established under Constantine I, when the Roman empire dominated the entire Mediterranean world. Despite the demise of the Western half, the two capitals continued to communicate in fourth-century style. But since there was now only one emperor ruling in the East, he was represented in the West by an exarch based at Ravenna, while in Rome the bishop took over more and more responsibility for the ancient capital. But no exarch or bishop doubted the reality of imperial power and authority. In communication with Constantinople...

      (pp. 239-266)

      In 1986 Professor Peri delivered a magisterial lecture here at Spoleto on the pentarchy, which established a new base for further research.¹ As he defined it, the pentarchy formalized the existence of a hierarchy of five major sees: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, which assumed collective responsibility for the united direction of the entire church within the confines of the cmpire. The pentarchy had three manifestations: institutional, canonical, and theological, which developed in the course of the fourth and fifth centuries. They received visible force when representatives of the ancient centers of Christianity met to define correct belief and...

    • 13 From Bread and Circuses to Soup and Salvation: THE ORIGINS OF BYZANTINE CHARITY
      (pp. 267-298)

      The replacement of pagan by Christian “welfare” in the early centuries AD was a long process that formed part of the transition from the ancient to the medieval world. Although imperial structures of government survived in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, in those areas subsequently designated by the term “Byzantine,” they were nonetheless completely transformed. For during this crucial period the established social and economic organization of the empire suffered an almost total breakdown, from which the Eastern half based on Constantinople emerged within new parameters. The example of philanthropy permits a clear demonstration of this process—the emergence...

    • 14 Ideals of Charity, Realities of Welfare: THE PHILANTHROPIC ACTIVITY OF THE BYZANTINE CHURCH
      (pp. 299-311)

      Although modern scholars sometimes doubt the extent of early Christian charity, claims made by late second-century apologists, particularly Justin Martyr and Tertullian, which are clearly confirmed by hostile, pagan witnesses, should alert us to the new religion’s innovations in philanthropic activity.¹ The dispossessed, the downtrodden, and all those who were destitute, sick, and unable to help themselves, were singled out for compassion and alms (eleemosyne). Christ’s identification, and elevation, of these unfortunates as persons most worthy and deserving of good works (kala erga) gave his followers unmistakable instructions. For the first time adherents of a particular belief were to show solidarity...

    • 15 Mathematical Mysteries in Byzantium: THE TRANSMISSION OF FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM
      (pp. 312-334)

      When in 1993 Andrew Wiles claimed to have found a general solution to Fermat’s last theorem, the announcement indicated a breakthrough in a problem that had fascinated mathematicians for over 350 years.¹ International interest was expressed, since Japanese, French, German, and American mathematicians among many others had worked on this problem in number theory, and the Göttingen Academy of Sciences had offered a substantial prize for the first successful solution. Fermat’s last theorem claims that “the equation$xn{\rm{ }} + {\rm{ }}yn{\rm{ }} = {\rm{ }}zn$has no nontrivial solutions when$n$is greater than 2.”² And ever since Fermat first propounded it in...

    • 16 Book Burning as Purification in Early Byzantium
      (pp. 335-356)

      In these days of instantaneous television transmission of images of warfare, natural disasters, and catastrophic accidents, fire is usually associated with destruction—forest fires, bombed cities, oil wells blazing. Burning is also a chosen method of displaying contempt, for instance, in setting fire to enemy flags or hated books. Even before the Ayatollah’s fatwa condemned it, Salman Rushdie’sThe Satanic Verseswas torched in Bradford. This served a symbolic purpose, as it reduced to ash words considered offensive to the Prophet and deterred Muslims from reading it for themselves. Similarly, in late fifteenth-century Florence, Savonarola had persuaded local people to...

  7. Index
    (pp. 357-365)