BECK index

Byzantine Empire 610-1095

Heraclius and Byzantine Wars 610-717
Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus
Leo III and Byzantine Iconoclasm 717-843
Byzantine Empire and Bulgaria 843-927
Byzantine Expansion 927-1025
Byzantine Decline 1025-1095
Barlaam and Ioasaph and Digenis Akritas

This chapter has been published in the book MEDIEVAL EUROPE 610-1250. For ordering information, please click here.

Heraclius and Byzantine Wars 610-717

Goths, Franks, and Justinian's Empire 476-610

In 610 when Heraclius came from Carthage to take the throne of the Byzantine empire, Sergius became the patriarch of the Constantinople church. The empire had been overrun by Slavs and Avars in the Balkans and by Persians in Asia Minor. Heraclius was so discouraged that he planned to move his capital to Carthage; but Sergius energetically opposed this plan and aroused the people. According to the laudatory poet George of Pisidia, Heraclius proclaimed that power must shine more in love than in terror. In 611 the Persians had been pushed out of Caesarea; but they invaded Syria, taking Antioch in 613 and Damascus, and the next year they captured Jerusalem after a 20-day siege. They pillaged the city, destroyed churches, and took the relic of the cross back to Ctesiphon. Many prisoners including Jerusalem patriarch Zacharias were also taken to Persia. Also in 614 the Slavs destroyed Dalmatia's administrative city Salona. Only Constantinople, Thessalonica, and cities on the Adriatic coast remained under Byzantine authority during this Slavic migration. The Persians approached Constantinople from the east as the Avars and Slavs pushed down from the north. Heraclius was nearly killed by the Avar Khan at Heraclea in 617. The Persians invaded Egypt and conquered Alexandria in 619; they now controlled Byzantium's main grain supply and most of the Near East.

Heraclius responded by organizing the eastern provinces as military themes named after the regiments that were given land and obligated to serve in the army according to the pattern already established in Carthage and Ravenna. This plan established strong free-holding farms and relieved the treasury by requiring the oldest son to serve in the army with his own arms for a small salary. Emperor Heraclius made a treaty with Avars by offering them substantial tribute so that he could attack the Persians. In 619 he also took in the Onogur (Bulgarian) prince Kovrat and raised him in his palace; they became life-long friends, and Kovrat guarded Byzantine interests in the Bulgarian region until his death in 642. The powerful Byzantine church provided funds, and after Easter in 622 Heraclius marched east gathering his troops. They pushed the Persian forces out of Asia Minor and Armenia. After returning to Constantinople to raise more tribute for the restless Avars, Heraclius resumed the war with Persia. His imperial army attacked the Sasanian religious center at Ganzak and destroyed the fire temple in revenge for Jerusalem. In the West Byzantine control of Spain was lost to the conquest of Visigoth king Suinthila about 624.

While Heraclius was in Lazica, in 626 Constantinople was once again under attack by Persians and Avars. As Sergius urged the Christians to pray, the Byzantine navy defeated the Slavonic fleet at the Golden Horn in August. This freed the Slavs from Avar domination, and led by a Frankish merchant named Samo, they continued to occupy the Balkans. Heraclius used Christianity to restrain northern invaders; it was recorded that he got the migrating Croats to take binding oaths not to go to war with other countries. Heraclius gained a reported 80,000 soldiers from the Caucasus Khazars as allies to fight the Persians in Armenia, and the next year the imperial forces crushed the Persian army near the ancient site of Nineveh. In 628 Khusrau II was deposed and murdered by his son Kavadh-Siroe, who made a treaty and before he died the next year even made Heraclius the guardian of his son. Persia agreed to return Syria, Palestine, and Egypt to the Byzantines. Heraclius returned to his capital in triumph, and in 630 the cross was returned to Jerusalem amid rejoicing.

Heraclius ended the use of Latin in government when he made Greek the official language of the Byzantine empire. Instead of being called by the Latin terms Imperator, Caesar, or Augustus, he was named Basileus, the Greek word for king though in this context it is translated Emperor. He began the Byzantine practice of designating his successor as Co-emperor to give the next Emperor experience and facilitate the succession. To try to mollify the many Monophysites in the Near East, the patriarch Sergius supported the teaching that Christ has a single energy and a single will, the latter known as the monothelete doctrine. Sergius died in 638 and was succeeded by Pyrrhus, an ardent advocate of this doctrine; but his victory proved Pyrrhic as the monothelete compromise failed to satisfy either the orthodox or the Monophysites.

A powerful new religious force was taking over the Near East from Arabia in the rapid Islamic conquests following the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632. Both the Persian and Byzantine empires had been weakened by their war; having suffered persecution from Byzantine orthodoxy, the Monophysites and the Persian Magians were usually willing to pay tribute for their religious freedom under the Muslims or convert, the third choice being to fight. The Byzantine army led by Manuel suffered a major defeat at the Yarmuk River in Palestine in 636. Jerusalem patriarch Sophronius surrendered when Caliph 'Umar came in person the next year. By 640 the Muslims had conquered Byzantine Mesopotamia and most of the remaining Persian empire, and Egypt had been invaded. Fabia-Eudocia had given Heraclius the son Constantine; but when she died in 612, the Emperor married his niece Martina, causing much criticism from Christians who considered it incest. After saving the empire with the military victories he personally led, Heraclius suffered miserable health as the empire shrunk from the Muslim onslaught, and he finally died in February 641.

In his will Heraclius made both 28-year-old Constantine and Martina's 15-year-old son Heraclonas Co-emperors with Martina as empress; but Constantine III died three months later, and Martina reinstated the monothelete Cyrus as Alexandria patriarch. Cyrus signed a treaty giving the Arabs Egypt, while in Constantinople the Senate, military commanders, and orthodox priests opposed the Empress and the monothelete patriarch Pyrrhus. Heraclonas crowned Constantine III's son Co-emperor; but in September 641 the Senate deposed Martina and Heraclonas, making sure they would never rule by cutting off her tongue and his nose. As Constans II (r. 641-668) was only eleven, the Senate held power for a while and also served as the supreme court. The Muslim general 'Amr entered Alexandria in 642 and by the next year had advanced west to Tripolis. When the new caliph 'Uthman recalled 'Amr, a Byzantine fleet led by Manuel recaptured Alexandria; but 'Amr returned and drove the Byzantines permanently out of Egypt in 646.

In North Africa theologian Maximus the Confessor in 646 organized a synod which condemned the Byzantine doctrine of monotheletism as heresy, and the next year Carthage exarch Gregory proclaimed himself Emperor with the support of Moorish tribes; but they were attacked by the Muslims, and Gregory was killed as his capital at Sufetula was sacked. In 648 Constans tried to end the theological controversy by promulgating his Type of Faith, which prohibited any discussion of Christ's energy or will with strict penalties. The next year the new Pope Martin held a council in the Lateran Palace attended by 105 bishops who condemned both the Ecthesis of Sergius and the Type. Constans sent Ravenna exarch Olympius to force the bishops to sign the Type and to arrest Martin; but in Rome Olympius went over to their side and proclaimed himself Emperor of Italy. He went to Sicily with his army, but the rebellion died with him in 652. The next year the new exarch Theodore Calliopa arrested the ill Martin and sent him to Constantinople, where he was tried by the Senate for treason along with Maximus; they were banished, and Martin died at Cherson in 656. Maximus was tried again in 662 and mutilated before dying in exile.

Meanwhile Syria's Muslim governor Mu'awiya had sent a force to invade Armenia in 642, and in 647 the Arabs took Caesarea in Cappadocia. Muslim raids into Asia Minor became annual events. Mu'awiya ordered a Muslim navy built, and the Arab fleet attacked Cyprus in 649 and took Rhodes in 654. The fallen Colossus was sold to a Jewish merchant, and its metal was taken away on 900 camels. The Byzantine fleet was defeated the next year off Lycia. Constans had his eldest son Constantine crowned Co-emperor in 654 and his two younger sons also in 659. The next year he got rid of his brother Theodosius by forcing him to become a priest and then executing him for treason. Embroiled in a civil war with Caliph 'Ali, Mu'awiya made a treaty with the Byzantine empire in 659, pledging 1,000 gold pieces a day. The Byzantine army invaded the Slavs and took many prisoners to work and fight in Asia Minor. A Slav division of 5,000 deserted to the Arabs, who settled them in Syria in 665.

Constans II decided to move his capital to the west in 662. He visited Thessalonica and Athens before arriving at Tarentum the next year. He campaigned with his army against the Lombards, besieging Beneventum; but he retired to Naples and visited Rome before establishing his court on Sicily at Syracuse. His imperial taxes alienated the people, and Constans was murdered in his bath by a chamberlain in 668. The conspiracy named the Armenian Mezezius Emperor; but he and several supporters were killed by the loyal exarch of Ravenna, who was supported by Pope Vitalian.

Constans II was succeeded by his son Constantine IV (r. 668-685), who had been reigning for the last few years in Constantinople. In 663 the Muslims had resumed their annual raids in Asia Minor, and Mu'awiya's navy captured the island of Chios and took the peninsula at Cyzicus near the capital in 670. The Muslim onslaught on Constantinople began in 674; but a Greek architect from Syria named Callinicus brought a secret invention called "Greek fire" that apparently combined petroleum with saltpeter with explosive results and enabled the Byzantine navy to be victorious in the war that may have saved Europe from Muslim domination. Finally in 678 the aged Mu'awiya agreed to a thirty years' peace, paying an annual tribute of 3,000 gold coins and evacuating the islands of Rhodes, Cos, and Cyprus. The Byzantine empire gained new respect, as the Avars and Slavs sent ambassadors to the victorious Emperor.

In 680 Constantine IV led a Byzantine navy north in the Black Sea to the Danube to attack the Bulgars; but they hid and then counter-attacked his army as it was crossing the Danube, and the Emperor had to agree to a treaty with Bulgar chief Ansparuch and pay an annual tribute. The Bulgars were more politically organized than the Slavs, whom they settled around them in Moesia and along the Black Sea as a buffer. Constantine also summoned the sixth general council at Constantinople that lasted ten months and condemned monotheletism. That year (681) the Emperor had both his younger brothers' noses cut off so that he could call himself sole ruler (Autocrator); but he died at age 33 in 685 and was succeeded by his son Justinian II (r. 685-695 and 705-711). Constantine IV had established the military theme of Thrace, and Justinian formed the theme of Hellas.

The ambitious Justinian II launched a campaign against the Slavs in 688, and his army fought its way to Thessalonica. So many Slavs were transported to Bithynia in the Opsikon theme that by 692 they produced 30,000 men for a military levy. In 688 Justinian had made a treaty with the Muslims that shared taxation on Cyprus; but when he removed men from Cyprus three years later, the Muslims attacked. The Byzantine Emperor had also agreed to remove the Mardaite marauders from Lebanon, and 12,000 of them were moved to Anatolia in 689. Slav troops went over to the Muslims, and in 692 they defeated the Byzantine army at Sebastopolis in Armenia. Justinian also tried to strengthen religion by calling another council at Constantinople in 691 that was attended by 289 bishops and passed 102 canons, forbidding pagan festivals and college students from attending theatrical shows, though marriage was allowed to the secular clergy. Justinian also tried to arrest Pope Sergius; but sentiment was so strong that only the Pope's mercy prevented the imperial representative from being lynched. The ambitious building plans of Justinian had caused financial problems, and he was deposed in 695 by a revolt of Blues, who cut off his nose and sent Justinian to Cherson.

When Leontius (r. 695-698) failed to stop the Muslim invasion of Carthage, the Byzantine navy rebelled and proclaimed as Emperor Tiberius II (r. 698-705), who was supported by the Greens. He cut off the nose of Leontius and sent him to a monastery. Tiberius did not try to stop the Muslim advance that proceeded to the Atlantic coast of Africa.

Justinian proved that cutting off a nose did not prevent one from ruling by escaping to the Khazars, where he married the Khan's daughter. Chased from there, he left her and went to Bulgar Khan Tervel, and in 705 with an army of Slavs and Bulgars, he approached Constantinople. The daring Justinian crawled through a pipe into the capital, took power, and ruled for six more years known as Rhinometus, referring to his slit nose. His example seemed to end this cruel practice of the 7th-century Byzantines, though unfortunately it was replaced by blinding. Justinian shared his throne with his wife Theodora and proclaimed Tervel Caesar. Leontius and Tiberius were executed. The bitter Justinian was intent on revenge, and several important officers were hanged from the walls; the patriarch Callinicus had his eyes put out. The Muslims took the opportunity to take Tyana and advance into Cilicia. Justinian also sent troops to punish Ravenna for not liking him and others for revenge against Cherson. This stimulated a revolt supported by the Khazars, and the Armenian Bardanes was proclaimed Emperor, as Justinian was deposed and killed in 711, the last of the Heraclian dynasty that had ruled for a century.

Justinian was avenged by the Bulgar Khan Tervel, who attacked the capital and marched through Thrace. Bardanes was deposed by revolting soldiers in 713, and Anastasius II tried to prepare the capital for a Muslim invasion. He was replaced two years later by the tax collector Theodosius, who did not even want to be Emperor. Thus when a strong military leader entered Constantinople in 717, he was crowned Emperor as Leo III and let Theodosius retire as a monk at Ephesus.

Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus

Maximus was born into a Christian family in Constantinople about 580. He served as a secretary in the court of Heraclius; but he resigned after three years in 613 and joined the monastery at Chrysopolis, where he became abbot. Maximus transferred to the St. George monastery at Cyzicus but left there during the crisis of 626 when the Avars, Slavs, and Persians were invading. After visiting Crete he settled in North Africa.

Maximus argued that Christ had both a divine and human will in a debate with Pyrrhus at Carthage in 645 and persuaded that champion of monotheletism to change his view for a while. Maximus attended Pope Martin's Lateran council in 649. He was arrested and taken to Constantinople, where he was tried with Martin in 653. In the account of his trial Maximus argued that he did not condemn the Emperor but a document he believed was alien to church doctrine. He admitted he was not in communion with the Constantinople church, because it had rejected the councils. When he refused to be silent in exile because he believed that to do so was to support the denial of truth, Maximus was returned to the capital and examined again in 662. His tongue was cut out for continuing to speak of two wills in Christ, and his hand was cut off for refusing to sign a compromising statement. His two associates suffered the same punishment, and they were banished to Lazica, where Maximus died on August 13, 662.

Influenced by the mysticism of Dionysus the Areopagite and Gregory Nazianzen, Maximus wrote several books using allegorical exegesis, propounding his theology, and exhorting Christians to follow the ethics of love and monks asceticism. The Ascetic Life by Maximus is a dialog between an old monk and a young brother. The young bother asks about salvation and the commandments. The old monk emphasizes that the commandments can be summed up in one word - love. Yet to love God and one's neighbor as oneself one must renounce such worldly things as food, money, possessions, acclaim, relatives, and so on. If one can get rid of desire for pleasure and material things, then even loving one's enemies can be easy. The young brother asks how he can devote himself to God. The old monk replies that one needs the following three virtues: love tames anger; self-mastery overcomes desire; and prayer withdraws the mind from all thoughts so that it can be presented alone to God. If people will encourage each other by practicing charity and good works, then salvation is possible.

Probably the most inspiring work of Maximus is found in his 400 sayings on Christian love (agapé). He began by describing love as a good disposition of the soul by which one prefers knowing God to any earthly attachments, which prevent one from reaching this love. He argued that if God made all things, then all those things are inferior to God. The one who loves God thus disdains all visible things and even one's own body. One who loves God cannot help but love every person as oneself even though one may be displeased with the passionate who are not yet purified, though seeing them convert and amend themselves brings one unspeakable joy. Anyone with a trace of hatred in one's heart toward any person makes oneself foreign to the love of God, because the love of God is not compatible with hatred of a person. Maximus wrote that the person is blessed who has learned how to love all people equally. Those who love God surely love their neighbors and so cannot hold on to money but rather give it in God's way to those in need. Maximus wrote,

As the memory of fire does not warm the body,
so faith without love does not bring about
the illumination of knowledge in the soul.
As the light of the sun attracts the healthy eye,
so does the knowledge of God
draw the pure mind to itself naturally through love.
The mind is pure when it is removed from ignorance
and illuminated by divine light.
The soul is pure when it has been freed from the passions
and rejoices unceasingly in divine love.
A blameworthy passion is
a movement of the soul contrary to nature.
Detachment is a peaceful state of the soul
in which it becomes resistant to vice.1

Maximus described the work of love as the deliberate doing of good to one's neighbor, patience, and using everything in the proper way. Those who do not reject pride, pleasure, and greed will not be able to remove occasions for anger and so will not be able to attain perfect love. Giving charity heals the angry part of the psyche, and fasting extinguishes the desiring part; prayer purifies the mind and prepares it to contemplate reality. God also granted the commandments for the abilities of the soul as well. Fasting, labor, and vigils keep the desires from growing, while solitude, contemplation, prayer, and desire for God decrease them and make the desires disappear. Anger is checked by tolerance, forgetting offenses, and gentleness, while love, giving charity, kindness, and benevolence make anger diminish. Maximus distinguished the body's virtues of fasting, vigils, service, and manual labor from the soul's virtues of love, patience, gentleness, self-mastery, and prayer.

Maximus found five reasons why we are allowed to be challenged by demons (negativity). First, the battle helps us to distinguish virtue and vice. Second, we learn how to acquire and hold on to virtue firmly. Third, while advancing in virtue we do not become proud but learn humility. Fourth, by experiencing vice we will hate it. Fifth and most important, when we become detached, we do not forget our own weaknesses nor the power of the one who helps us. Maximus observed that as it is easier to sin in thought than in action, so the war with thoughts is more exacting than struggles with things. He listed the five reasons for which the soul will abstain from sin as fear of people, fear of judgment, future reward, love of God, and the prompting of conscience. Maximus believed that evil only exists as abuse.

It is not food which is evil but gluttony,
not the begetting of children but fornication,
not possessions but greed,
not reputation but vainglory.
And if this is so,
there is nothing evil in creatures except misuse,
which stems from the mind's negligence
in its natural cultivation.2

Maximus discerned that the mind of the one who loves God does not battle against things nor their representations but against the passions (emotions) joined to those representations. He believed that self-love is the cause of all passionate thoughts, especially the desires of gluttony, greed, and vanity. From gluttony comes thoughts of fornication; from greed comes coveting; and from vanity comes arrogance. Anger, resentment, grief, sloth, envy, back-biting, and the rest come from these and bind the mind to material things on earth, weighing it down like a heavy stone when it should naturally rise like fire. Maximus found that the friends of Christ love everyone sincerely but are not loved by everyone, while the friends of the world do not love everyone nor are they loved by everyone. The friends of Christ maintain their love to the end, but the friends of the world often clash with each other over the world's goods. He concluded that the one who has love has God, because God is love.

John of Damascus was born in that city in the last quarter of the seventh century, and he probably died in 749. He was originally named al-Mansur after his Christian father, who served Umayyad Caliph 'Abd al-Malik (r. 685-705) as a tax collector. John was educated by the learned monk Cosmas, who had been captured in Sicily and ransomed by John's father Sergius. John succeeded his father as the chief administrator in Damascus and served under Caliph al-Walid (r. 705-715). The latter's restrictions of Christian treasury officials may have caused John to retire to the monastery of St. Sabbas near Jerusalem. He practiced asceticism and studied the church fathers. John was ordained a priest by Jerusalem patriarch John V some time before 726 when Leo III issued his first edict against images and icons.

The story that Leo sent a phony letter from John to the Caliph, who then cut off John's hand, which was miraculously restored by praying to the Virgin, is most likely a legend concocted to make John seem a martyr to the cause he defended. It is true that the Byzantine Emperor could not prosecute John, because he lived in Muslim territory. More likely is the story that John was treated strictly at the monastery and not allowed to write at first. In defending the use of pictorial images, John argued that Moses prohibited idolatry but not representations of men or angels, since cherubim were depicted. John believed that the images provided education for the illiterate about Christ, the Virgin, and the saints. After Constantinople patriarch Germanus resigned in 730, John, called Chrysorrhoas after a stream near his monastery or because of his eloquence, wrote a second defense of the use of images against the charges of the iconoclasts, arguing that the king should not legislate for the church but maintain civil order. In a third letter John accused the iconoclasts of serving the devil.

John of Damascus wrote The Fount of Knowledge, which was the first major theological work to combine Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology in a systematic and comprehensive way. This work was dedicated to another Cosmas, who had studied with him under the old monk of that name, some time after Cosmas was made bishop of Maiuma in 743. John did not claim that his ideas are new but that they are based on sound Christian doctrine, much of which he got from the Greek fathers Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and his main source, Gregory Nazianzen. The first part of The Fount of Knowledge lays the theological groundwork by using Aristotelian logic and categories.

The second part describes 103 heresies. About a hundred are based on previous Christian writings, but his treatment of the Ishmaelite or Saracen heresy is his own. John calls Muhammad a false prophet and argued that no prophet testified to his coming before as had been done for the Christ. He noted that Muhammad criticized the Christians for associating the Christ as the son with God. To the accusation that they idolized the cross, John pointed out that the Muslims worship the black stone at the Ka'ba. John criticized Muhammad's teaching that they could have four wives and an unlimited number of concubines, that men could divorce their wives easily, and he was offended that Muhammad made Zayd divorce his wife so that he could marry her. John also included the Monothelites as heretics, and his book also repudiated the Nestorians and Monophysites, believing that the divinity of Christ was dominant over his human nature. John branded the Iconoclasts heretics because they accused other Christians for venerating images of Christ, Mary, angels, and saints.

The third and longest part of The Fount of Knowledge is "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith." John believed that the law of God acts on our minds and draws them toward God, spurring on our conscience, which he called the "law of our mind." However, the desires and pleasures of the body, which he called a law in the members of our flesh, can lead us into sin if we are not careful. The conscience rejoices in the law of God and God's commandments, but the body may struggle against this law of the mind through the softness of pleasure and desire. John believed that the Christ by taking on the flesh without sinning overcame and taught people how to live according to the Spirit that strengthens the law of the mind. Jesus taught us to pray, and so with prayer and patience we can observe the commandments of the Lord. John also wrote moral works to counter the traditional vices with Christian virtues. He believed that virginity was as superior to marriage as the angels are above humans; but he acknowledged that marriage is good to prevent unchastity and for propagation.

Leo III and Byzantine Iconoclasm 717-843

Leo III (r. 717-741) camped outside of Constantinople and used diplomacy with Muslim naval commander Suleiman and their army commander Maslama so that they withdrew for the winter, while he negotiated with the Senate and was crowned Byzantine Emperor by Constantinople patriarch Germanus. Yet the following summer the Muslim army besieged the walls of the capital, and Suleiman's 1800 ships sailed into the Marmara. Leo gained Bulgarian help in this crucial war to stop the Muslim expansion from entering eastern Europe. Once again Greek fire enabled the Byzantine navy to destroy the Muslim fleet, though the blockade lasted a year until August 718. That year Sicily general Sergius tried to proclaim a new Emperor, and two years later ex-Emperor Anastasius II escaped from Thessalonica and tried to reclaim power with Bulgarian support; but both these efforts failed. Muslim armies invaded Asia Minor every year from 726 to 740, when they were defeated by Leo's army at Acroinon. Leo's son Constantine married a daughter of the Khazar Khan in 733. Having become Emperor after being the military governor of a powerful theme, Leo divided the larger themes into two parts. Western Anatolia became the Thracesion theme. The maritime Carabisian theme was divided, though the large Opsikion theme was still governed by Leo's son-in-law Artabasdus.

Leo and his son reformed Justinian's Byzantine laws by promulgating the Ecloga in Greek. Only a small portion of this covered criminal law; but mutilation of body parts now appeared, though in most cases they replaced the death penalty rather than fines. Social status was no longer a legal factor, as all individuals were equal before the law. Most of the reforms related to family and property. The power of the father was limited as the rights of wives and children were extended. Christian influence made marriage more protected. The law attempted to do away with corrupting bribery by prohibiting gifts to judges and by paying them state salaries. Judges were advised to refrain from all human passions and decide true justice by using clear reasoning; they must not scorn the poor nor leave the strong unpunished if they are guilty.

In 723 Caliph Yazid II had ordered all icons removed from Christian churches in Muslim territory. Iconoclastic bishops persuaded Leo III to issue an edict against images in 726, and he interpreted an earthquake as a sign of divine wrath against icons. In a letter to Pope Gregory II Leo asserted that he was not only Emperor but high priest as well. A venerated image of Christ in Constantinople was removed; but the people, who were mostly women, became so angry that the imperial officer removing it was killed. People in Greece set up a rival Emperor and sent a fleet to attack Constantinople; but their rebellion was suppressed, though only two leaders were executed. Strong criticism came from John of Damascus, who was outside the empire in Palestine, and Pope Gregory II called a synod that condemned the Byzantine iconoclasm. When Leo convened an assembly and asked the bishops to sign his edict in 730, Constantinople patriarch Germanus refused and was deposed. Anastasius was made patriarch, and the iconoclastic edict was enforced as icons were destroyed. Iconodules were persecuted, as Leo had the papal legates imprisoned.

Gregory III became Pope in 731, and a Roman synod excommunicated iconoclasts. Leo sent a fleet, but it was destroyed by a storm in the Adriatic. So he imposed heavier taxes on Sicily, Calabria, and the Illyrian diocese, which was incorporated under Byzantine authority. Ravenna exarch Paul and the Neapolitan duke were murdered. Paul's successor fled to Venice, and Ravenna was taken over for a while by the Lombards.

Leo III was succeeded by his son Constantine V (r. 741-775), who had been made Co-emperor in 720 at the age of two. In 742 Artabasdus claimed the throne. As Armeniakon theme general he had helped Leo become Emperor, had been given Leo's daughter in marriage and had been made count of the large Opsikion theme. As commander of this area and supported by those who opposed iconoclasm, he now attacked and defeated Leo's army while it was passing through his territory to fight the Muslims. Artabasdus negotiated with the regent Constantine left in Constantinople and was crowned there by Patriarch Anastasius, who also changed sides. Artabasdus made his older son Nicephorus Co-emperor and his younger son Nicetas army commander, sending him to Armeniakon. The icons were restored in the capital. With support from Thrace and most of Asia Minor, Constantine's forces defeated Artabasdus at Sardis and Nicetas at Modrina before regaining Constantinople, all in 743. The Emperor took revenge by blinding Artabasdus and his two sons while executing or mutilating others. Anastasius was led around on a donkey but remained patriarch. Constantine then made the eastern portion of Opsikion the Bucellarion theme.

A major epidemic of bubonic plague devastated the capital and coastal cities from 745 to 747, and often the living were too few to bury the dead. Many Slavs emigrated from Bulgaria to repopulate the cities. While the Umayyad caliphate was falling apart, Constantine V invaded Syria in 746 and captured fortresses in Armenia and Mesopotamia the next year, transporting prisoners to Thrace on the Bulgarian frontier he ordered fortified. The Byzantines lost Ravenna to the Lombards in 751. The Bulgarians reacted by invading Byzantine territory in 756, and for the next nine years Constantine fought annual campaigns against them. Uprisings of Slavs in Thrace and Macedonia were put down in 758. When Teletz came to power in Bulgaria in 762, many Slavs emigrated to Bithynia, and the Bulgars suffered a major defeat the next year. Teletz was removed but regained control in 770; he was defeated yet again by Constantine in 773, but the Byzantine Emperor died on a Bulgarian campaign in 775. These wars would cause the Bulgarians to consider the Byzantines their enemies for a long time.

Patriarch Anastasius died in 753, and a council was held in Constantinople the next year that was attended by 338 iconoclastic bishops but not by eastern patriarchs nor the Pope; thus opponents would later call it the headless council. Constantine himself appointed a new patriarch named Constantine of Sylaion. The council ordered religious icons destroyed and excommunicated Germanus and John of Damascus while extolling the Emperor as an apostle. Emperor Constantine was particularly hostile to the 100,000 or so monks in the empire, most of whom opposed iconoclasm. Many monasteries were closed and turned into barracks, arsenals, baths, or public buildings. Some monks were forced to marry, be blinded, or banished. Many went to Italy. In 765 Stephen, the abbot of Mt. Auxentius, was murdered by a mob in Constantinople, and the next year Constantine V ordered nineteen important officials executed.

Leo IV (r. 775-780) tried to moderate the iconoclastic persecutions of his father, particularly on cults of the Virgin Mary and the monasteries; but by the end of his short reign iconodules were being publicly whipped and imprisoned. However, his wife Irene was from Athens and was devoted to icon veneration. When Leo IV died in 780, his son Constantine VI was only ten years old, and his mother Irene ruled as Co-emperor. She gradually began to change the iconoclastic policies. During her reign Sicily governor Elpidius went over to the Muslims in Africa, but in 783 she sent the eunuch Stauracius to march on Thessalonica and organize the theme of Hellas. She appointed the moderate Tarasius as Constantinople patriarch (784-806). When a church council was called in 786, iconoclastic soldiers in the capital entered the church and broke it up. Irene sent them to Asia Minor ostensibly to fight the Muslims but had their officers removed; then she brought sympathetic troops from Thrace to defend Constantinople. The next year the seventh ecumenical council met at Nicaea. The politicians prevailed over the extremists and received the iconoclasts back into the Church if they abjured their heresy. Iconoclast writings were ordered destroyed and the icons restored. Images were not to be "adored" but "venerated."

As Constantine VI grew, he was supported by iconoclasts, and in 790 soldiers in Armenia and Asia Minor refused to swear allegiance to Irene and proclaimed her son sole ruler. Irene and her eunuchs left the imperial palace, but she was allowed back two years later. Constantine was becoming increasingly unpopular for failing in wars against the Bulgarians and the Muslims. Bulgarian king Telerig had obtained a list of Byzantine supporters and then had them put to death. Irene persuaded him to have the general who began his revolt blinded, which caused Armenian troops to mutiny again. Irene and Constantine also had various relatives mutilated. Irene had married her son Constantine to Mary of Amnia in 788, but she failed to produce a son. In 795 he shocked Christian sensibilities by divorcing her to marry lady-in-waiting Theodote, who bore a son in October 796. Tarasius approved the marriage, but extremists like abbot Plato and his son Theodore charged the patriarch with heresy, believing the marriage was adulterous by Mark 10:11. Constantine had lost his support, and in 797 his own mother had him blinded.

Irene ruled alone 797-802, calling herself Emperor. The Saracens invaded Cappadocia in 798 and even reached Ephesus on the Aegean Sea, and she had to pay substantial tribute to the wealthy Harun. Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III and offered to unite the Roman empire by marrying her. Irene courted popularity temporarily by greatly reducing taxes; but the fiscal irresponsibility resulted in her being overthrown in 802 by the finance minister Nicephorus, who was proclaimed Emperor; Irene was exiled and died the next year.

Nicephorus I (r. 802-811) ended tribute payments to the caliphate and canceled Irene's tax remissions, increasing taxes on families, monasteries, and churches; the state also gained income by monopolizing the loaning of money, charging 16.67% interest. Nicephorus strengthened the western military forces by establishing themes in Macedonia and the Peloponnese. Slavs in Greece rebelled and attacked Patras in 805 but were defeated. After a civil war caused by the usurpation of eastern commander Bardane Turcus, the Muslims led by Harun al-Rashid invaded in 806 and took Tyana, gaining 50,000 gold coins in ransom. The Byzantines had to pay tribute again; but strife in the caliphate after Harun died in 809 gave the Byzantine empire a period of rest from war. Nicephorus married his son Stauricius to an Athenian relative of Irene, and in 806 he appointed the moderate historian, another Nicephorus, to replace Tarasius as patriarch. A synod in 809 declared that the Emperor is above the law of the church and excommunicated anyone who disagreed. Abbot Plato, the Studion's Theodore, and his brother Joseph, Archbishop of Thessalonica, were banished, and 700 Studion monks were imprisoned or fled into exile.

Venice was taken by Charlemagne's son Pippin in 809. After Charlemagne destroyed Avar power, the Bulgarians in Pannonia became independent, and led by Krum they destroyed the powerful fortress at Sardica (modern Sofia) and massacred its garrison in 809. Nicephorus rejected peace offers and counter-attacked two years later, destroying the Bulgar capital at Pliska. Pursuing Krum into the mountains, Nicephorus was surrounded and killed. His son Stauricius was critically wounded but escaped to Adrianople. As he was dying, he selected his brother-in-law Michael Rangabe to succeed himself. Michael I (r. 811-813) tried to gain popularity but emptied the treasury by distributing gratuities to the army, the court, and the clergy, as he was devoted to icons. Michael recognized Charlemagne as an Emperor, regaining Venice. Krum offered the new Byzantine Emperor peace, but Studite abbot Theodore urged Michael to fight the Bulgarians at Adrianople in 813. Anatolikon theme commander Leo the Armenian held back his troops. Michael was defeated by Krum and deposed by Leo.

Leo V (r. 813-820) restored military power and iconoclasm. Krum had besieged Adrianople and approached the walls of Constantinople to negotiate peace but escaped a treacherous attack. The angry Krum then devastated the area, starved Adrianople into surrender, and carried off 10,000 prisoners. In a winter campaign Krum's Bulgarians captured another 50,000. Krum marched against Constantinople again but died of a cerebral hemorrhage in April 814. The Bulgarians' next strong leader, Omurtag, consolidated the kingdom and agreed to a thirty-year peace with the Byzantine empire. Patriarch Nicephorus was also deposed and was replaced by Theodore Melissenus in 815. His synod repudiated the Nicaean council of 787 and reverted to the acta of the iconoclastic council of 754. However, Leo V had little support for this iconoclasm, and while celebrating Christmas in 820 he was murdered by a conspiracy and replaced by the imprisoned Michael the Amorian.

Michael II (r. 820-829) was an uneducated soldier who took a neutral position but forbade all discussion of the icon issue. In 821 a Slav soldier from Asia Minor named Thomas led a revolution on behalf of the iconodules and the poor. Of six eastern themes only Opsikion and Armeniakon remained loyal to Michael. Thomas was crowned Emperor by the Antioch patriarch, indicating he had the approval of Muslim authorities. The rebels besieged Constantinople for more than a year; but Bulgar Khan Omurtag's army scattered the rebels, and Thomas was eventually captured, tortured, and killed in October 823. African Muslims conquered Crete about 826 and invaded Sicily the next year, taking Palermo in 831.

In contrast to his father, Michael's son and successor Theophilus (r. 829-842) was well educated and sponsored art and learning. Caliph al-Ma'mun offered him eternal peace and 2,000 pounds of gold if Theophilus would send the talented mathematician-physician Leo to Baghdad for a visit, but the Byzantine Emperor refused to share the philosopher. He increased the military organization of the empire with additional themes, and in 837 he broke the peace with the Muslims as his imperial army captured and burned the fortress of Zapetra, enabling him to celebrate a triumph. In response Caliph al-Mu'tasim led a large Muslim army in 838 that occupied Ancyra and attacked the Anatolikon theme's strongest fortress at Amorion. Iconoclast leader John the Grammarian became patriarch in 837, and for the last time the iconodules were persecuted; two Palestinian monks even had their foreheads branded. Methodius had been imprisoned seven years for challenging Emperor Michael II's authority. When he was brought before Theophilus for his past activities, he challenged the Emperor with the following statement:

If an image is so worthless in your eyes,
how is it that when you condemn the images of Christ
you do not also condemn the veneration paid to representations of yourself?
Far from doing so, you are continually causing them to be multiplied.3

Theophilus died in 842, and the following year John the Grammarian was deposed so that icon veneration could be restored.

Byzantine Empire and Bulgaria 843-927

Michael III (842-867) was only six years old when he began his reign, and so his mother Theodora acted as regent with a council dominated by Logothete Theoctistus. When Patriarch John the Grammarian refused to preside over a church council to rehabilitate icon worship in March 843, he was replaced by the iconodule Methodius. The cultured Theoctistus increased imperial gold reserves and promoted education. Studite zealots objected to the moderate policy toward the iconoclasts. A Muslim invasion was resolved by a peace and an exchange of prisoners. Patriarch Methodius died in 847, and the Studites were mollified by the appointment of Ignatius, son of Emperor Michael I; he had been castrated when his father was deposed and had become a monk. In the East a Paulician sect of extreme dualists, who believed that the material world is evil, had been persecuted since the reign of Michael I and now were migrating into the Muslim territory of the Melitene emir. Under Theodora the most systematic persecution in Byzantine history resulted in 100,000 Paulicians being slaughtered by imperial soldiers, while others fled to the Saracens.

In 853 a Byzantine fleet attacked and burned the Damietta stronghold in Egypt. As a result the Egyptians began to build up their navy. In 855 Theodora compelled her son Michael to give up his mistress and marry Eudocia Decapolita. The next year Michael conspired with his uncle Bardas to assassinate Theoctistus and take over the government. Michael liked to indulge himself in drinking and other pleasures; so he designated Bardas Caesar and allowed him to run the government. Bardas organized a university at the Magnaura palace and appointed the mathematician Leo as its head; the erudite Photius became its greatest teacher. Bardas was accused of having an incestuous relationship with his daughter-in-law and was ex-communicated by Ignatius. After a failed attack on Bardas in 858, Theodora and her daughters were imprisoned in a nunnery; but Ignatius refused to tonsure them and was deposed for treason.

Photius was quickly ordained and promoted through church offices so that he could become Constantinople Patriarch. The secular Photius was greatly opposed by the religious zealots and by Pope Nicholas I, who asked that the Illyricum diocese be returned to papal authority and considered the appointment uncanonical even after a council confirmed Photius in 861. Nicholas called a Lateran council two years later and declared Photius deposed. As the recognition of Charlemagne had created an independent western empire, now Patriarch Photius proclaimed that the Byzantine church was independent of the Pope. Melitene emir 'Umar had invaded the Armeniakon theme and occupied Amisus on the Black Sea, but Bardas' brother Petronas won a decisive victory in 863, which became a turning point in the Byzantine-Muslim conflict.

From the north Russians as early as 860 had invaded to the walls of Constantinople. The Byzantines renewed their relations with the Khazars, and Photius began to send out missionaries to convert people. In 860 Constantine of Thessalonica (renamed Cyril) visited a Khazar tribe on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea and founded a Christian church there. When the Moravian prince Ratislav requested religious instruction from Constantinople in 863, Cyril and his brother Methodius were able to preach to the Slavs in their own language and even translated the Bible into Slavic with the glagolithic alphabet Cyril adapted from Greek script. Ratislav also preferred a church independent of German prelates, and this greater flexibility in using local language by the eastern church resulted in the German missionaries leaving Moravia, because the western church insisted on using only Latin for religious documents and liturgy. Cyril and Methodius did go to Rome in 868, and Pope Adrian II agreed to let them use the Slavic language and have an independent Slavic church though subject to the Pope. Cyril died the next year, but Methodius was consecrated Pannonian archbishop and returned. However, the next rulers of Moravia favored the German-Latin priests, and in the early tenth century the Slavic priests were expelled to Bulgaria as the Slavic liturgy was abolished.

Bulgarian prince Boris had sent an embassy to the Franks; but in 864 the Byzantine army persuaded him to be baptized Michael in honor of his imperial sponsor. The Greek clergy proceeded to organize a Bulgarian church, and Boris-Michael even beheaded 52 Bulgarian bojars, who had rebelled against the Christianization and Slavic tendency of their nation. Boris-Michael wanted his church to be independent of Byzantine authority and sent Pope Nicholas I a list of differing customs he wanted accepted; the Pope granted most of the Bulgarian requests, including a doctrine that came from Spain and spread to the Franks that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father, Thus the Pope accepted the Bulgarians into his fold, causing Bardas and Michael to send the Pope an angry letter affirming their own supremacy and demanding that the objection to Photius be withdrawn. In 867 a Constantinople synod presided over by the Emperor excommunicated Pope Nicholas and denounced Roman doctrines that differed from Byzantine orthodoxy. For the first time Photius delineated the differences in doctrine between Byzantine Orthodoxy and the Roman church. In addition to their objection to the filioque ("and the Son") clause, the Byzantines allowed their clergy to marry. Pope Nicholas was anathematized, and Louis II was recognized as Emperor of the Franks.

Meanwhile the physically impressive Basil had become friends with the Emperor and married Michael's former mistress. While preparing for a campaign against Crete in 865, Basil murdered Bardas and was crowned Co-emperor the following year. The affection of Michael turned to his boatman Basiliscianus so much that he wanted to crown him, and so in 867 Basil had Michael murdered in his bed. Michael was referred to as "the Drunkard" by historians of the Macedonian dynasty Basil founded; so it is difficult to evaluate their negative views of Michael III.

The very next day Emperor Basil I (r. 867-886) sent Photius into exile as Ignatius was recalled in Basil's efforts to be reconciled with Rome. Nicholas had died and was succeeded by Pope Adrian, who sent legates to a council at Constantinople that excommunicated Photius. Three days after the session ended, a Bulgarian embassy arrived. The council reconvened and accepted the Bulgarian church as independent, and Emperor Basil had Ignatius consecrate an archbishop and several bishops for the Bulgarian church that now recognized the supremacy of the Constantinople patriarch. Bulgarian king Boris even sent his son Symeon to be educated at Constantinople. Basil found the treasury empty; but he went after those involved in malversation and managed to retrieve about half of what had been stolen. He reformed tax collection so that clear records were kept. Basil endeavored to select honest and learned judges, regardless of their social status, and he made sure that there were enough judges accessible and that they were paid well so that they would be independent. Basil attempted to purify Byzantine laws and published a handbook of legal principles entitled Procheiron and a second revision in the Epanagoge. The Emperor and patriarch were to rule the state and church in harmony for the material and spiritual welfare of humanity.

In the Balkans an independent Serbian kingdom was founded by Vlastimir; but when the Muslims besieged Dubrovnik in 867 for 15 months, they requested help from the Byzantines, who sent a navy that forced the Muslims to depart. Disciples of Methodius had been expelled from Moravia but converted many Slavs to Byzantine orthodoxy in the Balkans and Greece. A Byzantine military theme was established in Dalmatia. In 872 the Emperor's brother-in-law Christopher led an attack on the Paulicians that destroyed Tephrice and other fortifications in Asia Minor. Basil's army moved east and captured Zapetra and Samosata the next year; but they were defeated at Melitene. Armenia became an independent kingdom under Ashot I and was eventually recognized by both the Caliph and the Byzantine Emperor. The fall of Syracuse after being starved by a nine-month siege in 878 nearly completed the Muslim conquest of Sicily; but Basil's forces maintained Byzantine rule at Taormina and in south Italy. The advances led by Christopher and the Slav general Andrew Craterus were stopped by a major defeat from the Muslims at Tarsus in 883.

Basil I allowed Photius to return to the capital to teach his sons, and when Ignatius died in 877, Photius once again became Patriarch and held a council two years later. Basil tried to force the Jews in the empire to accept Christianity. Basil was devoted to his oldest son Constantine by his first wife, and as Co-emperor he had accompanied his father on military campaigns and shared in his triumphs. Basil was devastated when Constantine died at the age of twenty in 879. His next son Leo by the former mistress of Michael III may even have been Michael's son. Probably feeling that he was being punished for having murdered Bardas and Michael, Basil became mentally deranged. Leo was accused of treason, imprisoned, and came close to being blinded. Photius, who was related to the Empress Theodora and her brother Bardas, was accused of plotting to put a relative of his on the throne. People rioted over Leo's imprisonment, and after three years Basil released him. Three days later Basil was mortally wounded while hunting, though it is not clear whether he was killed by Leo's friends as was rumored.

Leo VI (r. 886-912) deposed Photius and made his own brother Stephen Patriarch. Leo's other younger brother Alexander was Co-emperor, but he was unpopular and not interested in government. Leo's first marriage had been arranged, and he made his mistress Zoe's father Stylianus Zautzes his chief advisor or Logothete of the Drome. Leo was well educated by Photius and was called the Wise for his extensive writings on theology and government that included oracular predictions about the empire. In the first half of his reign while Stylianus was still alive, Leo oversaw the complete revision of Byzantine laws from Justinian on into a unified code called the Basilica that included canon law and 113 new edicts of Leo referred to as novels. The Basilica and commentaries on it would be the basis for Byzantine law for centuries. The ancient powers of the curia and Senate were revoked as the Emperor was authorized to head all branches of the government through an elaborate bureaucracy appointed by him and directly responsible to him. Only the church under the Patriarch he selected was independent, as the church council could trump the Emperor, who was only a layman.

Under Leo the empire was organized in many themes, each governed primarily by the military general, while the Emperor was commander in chief and had his own powerful military in the capital. Economic activity was controlled by the eparch of Constantinople, who regulated prices and wages to benefit the state and the consumer; imports from provinces and foreign countries were encouraged, but exports were strictly limited. Most workers were controlled by their guilds that even included notaries and money-changers, though the guilds were no longer hereditary but were based on ability. Leo's laws made it easier for wealthy landowners to purchase small farms, as an aristocracy increased its local power and moved toward feudal authority over their serfs.

When Bulgarian king Boris-Michael abdicated in 889 to retire into a monastery, his son Vladimir tried to return Bulgaria to paganism and was killed in 893. Boris came out of retirement temporarily to put his younger son Symeon on the throne before returning to the religious life until he died in 907. Symeon (r. 893-927) challenged the monopoly on trade Stylianus had given to two Byzantine merchants, who removed the Bulgarian market from Constantinople to Thessalonica. Major Slav exports were hides, furs, wax, and slaves. When Symeon's Bulgarian army invaded in 894, Byzantine diplomacy appealed to the Magyars, who then attacked Bulgaria from the north, while Byzantine general Nicephorus Phocas invaded their southern borders, and Eustathius blockaded the mouth of the Danube with the Byzantine navy. Symeon gained a truce while he called in the Patzinaks from southern Russia to attack the Magyars, and in 896 Bulgarian forces wiped out a Byzantine army and invaded western Hellas; the empire had to agree to pay tribute to Bulgaria. The Magyars led by Arpad moved west and found their permanent Hungarian home in the Danube plain.

Muslims invaded Cilicia, assisted by their navy. Taormina fell in 892, giving the Muslims complete control of Sicily, though a Byzantine Lombard province was established in southern Italy. The empire expanded to the east by founding the province of Mesopotamia in 900; later Taron was formed east of that, and Lycandus east of Cappadocia. Azerbaijan's Ostikan Afshin invaded Armenia three times, but Armenian king Smbat (890-914) managed to defeat them and regain hostages in 901 after Afshin died. Afshin's brother Yusuf allied with Armenian princes suffering Smbat's taxation; Yusuf captured Smbat in 913 and tortured him for a year before killing him. Armenia's Ashot II (r. 915-928) would also face many struggles with Muslims and a civil war that was stopped by the mediation of John the Catholicos.

A Greek named Leo of Tripoli joined with the Muslims, and they sacked the empire's second greatest city of Thessalonica in 904, enabling Bulgaria to move its southern border almost that far. Another aristocrat named Andronicus Ducas rebelled and went to Baghdad, where he was compelled to become a Muslim or die. His son Constantine Ducas escaped and became Byzantine military governor of Charsianon in Asia Minor; later he would be killed trying to take the imperial throne. The empire fortified Thessalonica and built up its navy, enabling Logothete Himerius to defeat the Muslim fleet in the Aegean Sea in 908. Himerius attacked Laodicea two years later; but after failing to take Crete in 911 the imperial navy was badly beaten off Chios by Muslims led by Leo of Tripoli and another Greek named Damian. In 907 the Russian prince Oleg threatened Constantinople and gained a commercial treaty that was ratified four years later.

After his first wife Theaphano died in 897, Leo VI married his mistress Zoe a few months later; but she died without a son in 899. Leo then married the Phrygian Eudocia Baiana the next summer even though a third marriage violated the canon laws Leo had just codified, and the church complained; yet in 901 she died in child-birth, soon followed by the child. Disliking his brother Alexander, Leo wanted a son, and in 905 Zoe Carbonopsina gave him one. Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus baptized the boy Constantine the following January as the Emperor promised to separate from Zoe. Yet three days later in a private ceremony Leo married Zoe and proclaimed her Augusta. The angry Patriarch forbade the Emperor to enter a church on Christmas or Epiphany. So Leo received a dispensation from Pope Sergius III and forced Nicholas to resign, appointing the pliant Euthymius. In 911 Leo crowned his son Constantine Co-emperor. When Leo died of illness the next year, the hated Alexander became Emperor with the young Constantine as his colleague.

Alexander (r. 912-913) ruled badly for only thirteen months before he died. He put Zoe in a nunnery and replaced most of Leo's advisors, recalling Nicholas Mysticus as Patriarch. Not only Euthymius, but all the clergy he had ordained were to be dismissed. Some refused, and bloody riots ensued in the provinces. Alexander broke the treaty Leo had made with Bulgaria, giving the ambitious Symeon an excuse for going to war. When Alexander died of a cerebral hemorrhage while playing ball drunk, Constantine, called Porphyrogenitus because he was "born to the purple," was still only seven years old. So the patriarch Nicholas ignored his religious duties to govern the empire as regent. The chief commander Constantine Ducas tried to usurp power, but Nicholas ordered marines led by Eladas to stop them, and Ducas was beheaded. Nicholas ordered so many executions that his own council remonstrated.

Symeon's Bulgarian army approached Constantinople's impregnable walls, and he entered the city to negotiate. Symeon's daughter was to marry Constantine VII, and Nicholas even crowned Symeon Emperor of Bulgaria. Such concessions shocked the Byzantines, and Zoe returned to the palace to take over the regency, canceling the engagement and the coronation. So the Bulgarians overran Thrace and captured Adrianople in 914, plundering the regions around Dyrrachium and Thessalonica. Empress Zoe appointed Leo Phocas commander, and the navy was led by the Armenian Romanus Lecapenus. That year a Byzantine army put Armenian king Ashot back on his throne, and the Lombard province governor, whom Nicholas had appointed, defeated the Saracens at Capua. The imperial army invaded the Bulgarians along the Black Sea coast but was badly defeated at Achelous in 917 by Symeon, who then invaded northern Greece the next year.

Romanus Lecapenus seized the government in March 919. Leo Phocas opposed him in Bithynia; but the army failed to support the recently defeated general, and he was blinded. Romanus married his daughter Helena to Constantine VII in May, and by the end of 919 Romanus was Co-emperor with his son-in-law. Bulgarian king Symeon continued to devastate imperial territory and captured Adrianople again in 923. He made an alliance with Egypt; but Romanus used money and diplomacy to get the Muslims on his side. Symeon had to negotiate again in 924, and the next year Romanus made an alliance with the new Croat kingdom ruled by Tomislav, allowing the first Croat king to govern Dalmatia. The Byzantines also won over the Serbs, who were then attacked and eventually defeated by Symeon's Bulgarians; but Symeon was defeated trying to invade Croatia, and the Pope mediated a peace. When Symeon died in 927, he was succeeded by his son Peter (r. 927-969), who made a peace treaty that lasted nearly to the end of his long reign. A sect of dualistic Bogomils opposed the Bulgarian church rituals and any outward worship, as they protested against rule by the powerful and wealthy. Their initiates were required to abstain from sexual intercourse, meat, and wine.

Byzantine Expansion 927-1025

Romanus made his son Christopher Co-emperor and heir to the throne, but he died in 931. When Nicholas Mysticus died in 925, Romanus made his 16-year-old son Theophylact Patriarch of Constantinople, and he remained in that position until his death in 956. Romanus attempted to remedy the problem of the wealthy taking over the land of the poor by issuing new laws in 922 and 934 that gave relatives and neighbors precedence in land sales. Many starving peasants were easily persuaded to accept the protection of a wealthy landlord, but an agrarian revolt occurred in Bithynia in 932. After a bad winter and famine the Emperor in 934 censured the selfishness of the powerful as being more cruel than the hunger or pestilence. All property that was sold for less than half a fair price was to be restored without compensation.

The general John Curcuas led Byzantine victories against the Muslims at Melitene in 931 but had to recapture it three years later. The Byzantines found themselves allied with Egypt and the Baghdad caliphate against the rising Hamdanid dynasty led by Saif ad-Daula, who in 938 defeated Curcuas in the Upper Euphrates region and then devastated Colonea in 940. Russians raided the Bithynian coast in 941, but Greek fire enabled a smaller Byzantine navy to destroy the Russians' Viking ships. When Prince Igor arrived in 944, Byzantine diplomacy bought off the Russians with gifts and a new trade agreement. Magyar incursions were also stopped by bribery. In 943 Curcuas moved east again and took Martyropolis, Amida, Dar, and Nisibis before capturing at Edessa the relic believed to be the burial shroud of Jesus and sending it to the capital, where it was received with religious festivities. In Armenia Abas (r. 928-951) made peace with the Muslims and had a cathedral built at Kars. When the Abasgian king Ber wanted it consecrated with Byzantine rites, Abas defeated him twice and had him blinded.

In 944 the Emperor's sons Stephen and Constantine Lecapeni tried to seize power before Romanus passed it to Constantine VII. Romanus was exiled on the island of Prote, where he died peacefully four years later. However, the sons were unable to remove Constantine VII, who had them arrested in January 945 and sent into exile. Though he had been Co-emperor most of his life, the reclusive Constantine was now forty years old and began to rule for the first time. He had made wise use of his time, studying and writing on government and history. His Book of Ceremonies is considered a valuable encyclopedia of Byzantine customs that revolve around the powerful Emperor. For his son Romanus he wrote a shrewd book On Imperial Administration that suggested the proper diplomacy for various countries. The greedy and arrogant Patzinaks must be controlled annually by tribute, alliance promises, and the exchange of hostages in order to keep the Russians, Bulgarians, and Magyars quiescent. This valuable book was top secret and never allowed to leave the palace, where only high officials could read it. In diplomacy the Emperor recommended giving as little as possible to get as much as possible in order to enhance power, and the loyalty of the navy must be assured. Constantine also wrote an important history of this period and a biography of Basil I.

Constantine VII was also concerned about land ownership, and in 947 a law ordered that all land in the Anatolikon and Thracesion themes that had been acquired by the powerful since Constantine's sole rule began and in the future be restored immediately without compensation to the peasants. Constantine VII excelled at diplomacy and often met with dignitaries from a wide variety of countries. In 946 he negotiated an exchange of prisoners with Saif ad-Daula. Magyars agreed to be baptized and concluded a peace treaty in 949, the same year that Liudprand of Cremona visited at Christmas. In 957 Constantine met with the emir of Diyarbekir and Princess Olga of Russia. Byzantine forces tried and failed to take Crete in 949; but the army led by John Curcuas captured Germaniceia and crossed the Euphrates in 952. However, the next year Saif ad-Daula reconquered Germaniceia and invaded Byzantine territory. Yet after Nicephorus Phocas replaced his father Bardas Phocas in 957, the Byzantines took Hadath, and the next year John Tzimisces captured Samosata.

Constantine VII was succeeded by his son Romanus II (r. 959-963), who on his own had married the beautiful Theaphano, daughter of a Laconian tavern-keeper. To please his wife the Emperor Romanus removed his mother Helena and had his five sisters put into convents. Government affairs he left to the capable but unpopular eunuch Joseph Bringas, who in 961 during a famine imported grain and sold it for half price even though he had a reputation for avarice. In 960 the commander Nicephorus Phocas organized a massive invasion of Crete with more than three thousand ships. After a blockade of eight months the Byzantine troops stormed the Muslim stronghold, killing 200,000 and enslaving as many according to the Arab chronicler Nuwairi. In 962 the imperial army led by Nicephorus invaded Cilicia, moving past Tarsus but taking 55 walled towns including Anazarbus, Germaniceia, Raban, Duluk, and the Hamdanid capital at Aleppo, where Saif ad-Daula surrendered after a siege.

When Romanus II died in March 963, Theaphano as Empress became regent for her two boys Basil II and Constantine VIII. In August Nicephorus Phocas (r. 963-969) marched into Constantinople, overcame the forces of Bringas in street-fighting, and was crowned Emperor. He married Theaphano and agreed to protect her two sons. Bringas was replaced by an illegitimate son of Romanus I, a eunuch named Basil. John Tzimisces was made commander in the East and Leo Phocas commander in the West. In 964 the Emperor sent his nephew Manuel Phocas with a navy to invade Sicily; but they were defeated, and Manuel was killed. However, the next year the Byzantines took over the previously shared island of Cyprus. That year Nicephorus, his brother Leo, and John Tzimisces besieged the populous cities of Tarsus and Mopsuestia, and both surrendered. Nicephorus arrogantly refused to pay the usual tribute to Bulgaria but foolishly hired the Russian prince Svjatoslav, who defeated the Bulgarians in 968. A Patzinak attack on Kiev made the prince go home; but the same summer the Russians returned and captured Bulgarian king Boris II, who had just succeeded his father Peter. Now the Byzantine Emperor had to ally with the Bulgarians to fight the Russians. Antioch was not taken until 969 when the Emperor was returning to Constantinople. The emir of Aleppo was made a Byzantine vassal, and their non-Christians paid imperial taxes.

A disciplined soldier with ascetic religious tendencies, Nicephorus helped his friend Athanasius found the famous monastery of the Lavra on Mount Athos. When Patriarch Polyeuctes refused communion to the Emperor for a year because of his marriage to Theaphano, he opposed the church's accumulation of land and in 964 issued an edict that prohibited any increase in church real estate. The legacies usually given to the church now could not include land, and no new monasteries could be founded. As an aristocrat, Nicephorus resented the laws giving land back to the peasants, and in 967 in the name of equal justice he proclaimed a law that protected the property of the powerful from being reclaimed by the poor and that attempted to keep the lands of the rich, the poor, and the military separate. He increased the required land value of soldiers from four pounds of gold to twelve, making these soldiers no longer poor but nobles usually accompanied by a band of tenants.

The militaristic Nicephorus tried to use the Muslim concept of holy war (jihad) by urging Patriarch Polyeuctes to canonize soldiers killed fighting against infidels as Christian martyrs, but to their credit the Constantinople patriarch and the bishops refused to sanction such a blasphemy. Instead they urged the canons of Saint Basil that prohibited communion for three years to soldiers polluted by killing. The Emperor even issued an edict taking over control of church administration, but it was repealed after five years. Though most of his wars were victorious, the taxes to support them were not popular, as the currency was debased. After poor harvests in 967 he even exploited the government's monopoly of grain, oil, and wine to gain money from increased prices, causing riots. Nicephorus had banished John Tzimisces to his estate at Chalcedon, and apparently the Empress Theaphano (who some believe also poisoned Constantine VII as well as her husband Romanus II) helped John's conspiracy that murdered her husband Nicephorus while he slept on December 10, 969.

The forthright Patriarch Polyeuctes insisted that John Tzimisces (r. 969-976) do penance, expel his mistress Theaphano, and punish his accomplices in assassination. John pled innocence and cooperated so that he could be crowned Emperor by the Patriarch, and he revoked the laws restricting monastic and church possessions. He donated large amounts of his own private wealth to the poor and abolished the hated poll tax that affected everyone but the aristocrats. John married Theodora, the daughter of Constantine VII and the aunt of the young Emperors Basil II and Constantine, whom he also pledged to protect. The eunuch Basil came over to serve John with increased influence. The former Emperor's nephew Bardas Phocas was proclaimed Emperor in Casearea, but he was defeated by John's brother-in-law Bardas Sclerus, and Leo Phocas the curopalates was blinded after his failed attempt to take power in the capital.

In 970 Bardas Sclerus with 12,000 skilled soldiers overcame 30,000 Russian invaders at Arcadiopolis near Adrianople. First Bardas and his brother triumphed in single combat. After the battle a few Russians escaped, and according to a Byzantine historian only 25 imperial soldiers were killed. John took up the war against Bulgaria and stormed their capital at Great Preslav in 971, restoring Boris II to his throne and gaining Bulgarian support against the Russians, whom he besieged at Silistria, where Svjatoslav eventually surrendered and agreed not to fight the Byzantines again. Emperor John then released supplies to the starving Russians and renewed their commercial treaty. Bulgaria was annexed by the Byzantine empire; Boris II was taken to Constantinople as a prisoner; and the Bulgarian Patriarchate was terminated.

John married his own relative named Theaphano to the German Otto II in 972 at Rome, gaining a treaty that protected Byzantine territories in Italy from northern invasion. John continued the war in the East, taking Nisibis and Martyropolis. However, John was stopped from invading Armenia, settling for an Armenian contingent, when King Ashot III (r. 952-977) met him with an army of 80,000. Ashot had made peace with his brother Mushel, who had founded the separate kingdom of Venand at Kars in 968. Ashot had gained favor from Baghdad by defeating rebel forces that were causing turmoil in Azerbaijan and Mesopotamia. John's invasion of Syria began in 974, and the following year Byzantine forces took Baalbek, Damascus (which surrendered and paid tribute), most of Palestine including Tiberias, Nazareth, Akkon, and Caesarea, and finally Acre, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and Tripoli. John Tzimisces returned to his capital, where he died, probably of typhoid, on January 10, 976.

The eunuch Basil controlled the government for several years while 18-year-old Basil II (r. 976-1025) and his brother Constantine, 16, continued to indulge themselves in pleasures. Basil II soon became interested in ruling, while Constantine was content to let his brother take precedence. Their great-uncle Basil demoted eastern commander Bardas Sclerus to governor of Mesopotamia. Following the example of the two previous aristocratic commanders who took over the government, in the summer of 976 Bardas Sclerus was proclaimed Emperor by his troops, defeated imperial forces, killing their commander Peter Phocas, and marched to Constantinople in 978. Ironically Basil called on Bardas Phocas, who had been exiled for an attempted usurpation that had been stopped by Sclerus for John Tzimisces. Phocas gathered forces at his family power center of Caesarea, forcing Sclerus to turn back from the capital. Sclerus won the first battle, but near Amorium in May 979 Phocas defeated Sclerus in single combat and then his army. Sclerus fled to the court of the Caliph. A Georgian monk named John Tornik recruited an army of Georgian cavalry to help defeat Sclerus, and with his reward Georgians built the Iviron monastery at Mt. Athos.

By 985 Basil II wanted to rule on his own, and the eunuch Basil was accused of malversation and plotting against him with Bardas Phocas and other generals. The elderly Basil was arrested, and his vast wealth was confiscated. Basil II declared invalid all edicts of his great-uncle unless he personally approved them. A revolt had broken out in the Balkans led by the four sons of Macedonia governor Nicholas and had spread as a war of liberation. Bulgarian king Boris II and his brother Romanus escaped from Constantinople; however, Boris was accidentally killed by Bulgarian sentries, and Romanus could not rule because he had been castrated by the Byzantines. After his older brothers died, Nicholas' son Samuel founded an empire with a capital at Ochrida. He revived the Bulgarian Patriarchate and governed from the Danube to the Balkans and Macedonia except for Thessalonica. Samuel's forces conquered Thessaly in 985. Basil's army attacked them at Sardica the next year but was defeated and had to retreat. While Samuel consolidated his empire from the Black Sea to the Adriatic, Basil II had to return to fight another civil war.

Bardas Phocas was declared Emperor in 987 by many aristocrats including Bardas Sclerus, though Phocas soon betrayed Sclerus and had him imprisoned. With all Asia Minor behind him Bardas Phocas marched on the capital early in 988. The Patriarch forced the weakened Basil to repeal the legislation of Nicephorus regarding monastic properties, though the Emperor got revenge later by taxing church property. With his own army defeated, Basil II appealed to Russian prince Vladimir; he sent 6,000 Varangians, who defeated the rebels at Chrysopolis and Abydus, where Bardas Phocas died in 989. Basil had three rebel leaders executed. Bardas Sclerus revived his claim; but Basil offered him second position in his empire and was surprised to find the elderly general was led in nearly blind. The noble Sclerus advised him not to let his generals become wealthy and that he should keep them busy with fines and heavy taxes. Basil himself never married, apparently taking the advice of Sclerus that he should not allow a woman to have any influence at court. Basil had agreed to marry his sister to Vladimir if the Russian people would convert and be baptized; but Vladimir had to invade and occupy Cherson to make the Byzantine Emperor keep this agreement. The Russian church was subordinate to the Constantinople patriarch, who sent them Greek metropolitans.

Basil II invaded Macedonia again in 991, beginning a long war against Samuel and his Balkan empire. Basil granted Croat ruler Stjepan Drzislav the government of Dalmatia and probably gave Dioclea to Serbian prince John Vladimir. In 992 the republic of Venice was given favorable commercial terms in exchange for their policing the Adriatic Sea. In 994 the Fatimids defeated the Byzantine commander of Antioch on the Orontes and besieged Aleppo, which Basil went in person to defend. He would return to Syria again in 999 after another Fatimid victory over his Antioch forces.

In 996 Basil II issued a new law abolishing the forty-year time limit on restoring land to the poor. Mentioning the wealthy Phocas and Maleini families, the Emperor decreed that any property acquired since the first land reform law of 922 should be restored to the poor without compensation. Although Cappadocian magnate Eustathius Maleinus had given him hospitality on his Syrian campaign, he had so many slaves and such a powerful private army that Basil invited him to Constantinople and held him there while the state confiscated Maleini property. Basil also proclaimed a law that the wealthy must help their insolvent neighbors with their taxes.

Meanwhile Samuel's forces had invaded Greece. After visiting Armenia and Iberia in the Caucasus region, in 1001 Basil launched a major campaign to regain the Balkans. His imperial forces took Sardica and much of Bulgaria before invading Macedonia. They took the stronghold of Vidin on the Danube while Samuel plundered Adrianople. By the river Vardar in 1004 the Byzantines severely defeated Samuel's army, capturing Skoplje and Vodena. The next year Dyrrachium was betrayed to the Byzantine Emperor. The major defeat of the Macedonian army came in 1014 at the Kleidon mountain passes while Samuel fled to Prilep. The ruthless Basil had 14,000 captives blinded, leaving one eye for every hundred men to guide them back to Prilep, where their czar Samuel upon seeing them collapsed and died two days later. Over the next few years Samuel's successors were murdered while the imperial troops gradually conquered the entire Balkan peninsula for the first time since the Slavs had migrated there four centuries before. Basil accepted taxes paid in kind instead of gold, and the Ochrida patriarch was reduced to an archbishop subject to the Emperor rather than the Constantinople Patriarch. The entire region was governed as military themes like the rest of the Byzantine empire.

Armenia enjoyed an era of peace under Smbat II (r. 977-990) and Gagik I (r. 990-1020); but after this Bagratid king died, a civil war broke out in Armenia between Gagik's sons John Smbat and Ashot. Georgian king Georgi and the Catholicos Petros mediated the conflict by dividing the kingdom between them. Both brothers violated the treaty, and John Smbat promised Basil II his kingdom after his death. Vaspurkan and part of Iberia were also annexed. While the Emperor was at Trebizond on his way to Iberia in 1022, a revolt was led by generals Nicephorus Xiphias and Nicephorus Phocas in Cappadocia; but Xiphias ambushed and assassinated Phocas. Xiphias was eventually captured, tonsured, and banished as his estate was confiscated. Even when he died on December 15, 1025 the ambitious Basil was planning an invasion of Sicily. The Byzantine empire had reached its greatest extent, and while reducing taxes on the poor and waging continuous wars enough plunder had been gained from the conquered and the estates of rebel aristocrats to leave a treasury that included 15,000,000 gold coins.

Symeon (949-1022) was abbot at Mamas for thirty years, but his mysticism challenged the authority and theology of the Byzantine court's Archbishop Stephen, and Symeon was banished in 1009. He was criticized for teaching that a non-ordained monk can forgive sins. His discourses emphasize repentance, detachment, renunciation, virtues, and charity. Symeon believed that everyone could experience the Holy Spirit directly, and he wrote that to deny that is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. The ascetic life is a purification from vices and passions, and practicing virtues is a preparation for contemplation and mystical experience. Detachment or apatheia is the door to contemplation that opens when self-love is silenced. In addition to his Discourses and Theological Treatises, Symeon also composed Hymns of Divine Love.

Byzantine Decline 1025-1095

Basil II's brother Constantine VIII (r. 1025-1028) finally became Emperor and had plenty of money to spend on his pleasures at the Hippodrome, banqueting, hunting, and games. Constantine was very worried about revolutionary plots, and he had many people blinded without trials whether they had committed crimes or were merely suspected, including Constantine Burtzes, Nicephorus Comnenus, Bardas Phocas, and even the Naupactus metropolitan. The Emperor insisted that all taxes be exacted even the arrears that Basil had left uncollected. On his death bed he had his sister Zoe marry the most likely successor Romanus Argyrus even though they had to send the wife of Romanus to a monastery and get a divorce first. Three days after the wedding, Romanus was proclaimed Emperor. Zoe was beautiful but nearly fifty; after Romanus discovered she could not give him a child, he put her on an allowance and ignored her.

Having studied past Roman Emperors, Romanus III (r. 1028-1034) dreamed of military glory, but in his only battle his troops quickly ran away. His skilled general George Maniaces succeeded in Syria and captured Edessa in 1032. Romanus released prisoners and even paid much of their debts. He yielded to the wealthy landlords on taxes, and the peasants were too poor to pay. So he revived the corrupt system of farming out taxes to greedy and ruthless men. The small free-holdings and even lands of soldiers were quickly bought up by the aristocrats especially during a series of disasters that included famine, plague, locusts, and an earthquake. Romanus rapidly depleted the imperial treasury by sending money as relief to the sufferers. He lavished treasure building a church in imitation of Justinian, and the writer Michael Psellus wondered how the pious could enter an ostentatious church dedicated to the "mother of God" that had caused so many evils in its building. His most influential advisor, a eunuch named John Orphanotrophus, had a young brother Michael, who appealed to the lonely Zoe. Michael became Zoe's lover, and in 1034 Romanus died in his bath, either poisoned or drowned.

That evening Michael IV (r. 1034-1041) was put on the throne. He also tired of Zoe and had her kept under guard. John Orphanotrophus and the bureaucracy managed to dominate the aristocratic military class; but the callous tax collection that demanded money instead of payment in kind provoked a revolt by the Slavs in the Balkans. When John, the Slav Archbishop of Ochrida, died in 1037, a Greek named Leo from St. Sophia was sent to replace him. In 1040 Peter Deljan, a grandson of Samuel, was proclaimed czar in Belgrade, and John Vladislav's son Alusianus escaped from Constantinople and became his co-ruler. However, the rebels were divided, and the uprising was suppressed the next year; but in Zeta (Dioclea) Stephen Voislav had been independent since 1035, and in 1042 he expanded his domain by defeating the Byzantine army. Michael had ascetic religious tendencies, and he contributed imperial funds to monasteries, nunneries, hospices, and even founded a retirement home for former prostitutes. Zoe was induced to adopt his nephew Michael. Finally the Emperor retired to a monastery and died the same day.

Michael V Caliphates became Emperor on December 10, 1041; but he ungratefully turned on his uncle John Orphanotrophus by banishing him and Zoe to a nunnery; he even ordered Patriarch Alexius to withdraw to a monastery. Michael sent a message to the Senate accusing the Empress and the Patriarch of plotting against his life. The people in the capital felt more loyalty to Zoe and her sister Theodora than to him and tore down the mansions of his family. Empress Zoe and John Orphanotrophus returned to the palace to help Michael; but the crowd went and got Theodore from her nunnery and clothed her in a royal robe. Michael and John fled to a church for sanctuary while fighting in the streets killed about 3,000. According to Michael Psellus, Michael confessed that God was just and he was paying a correct penalty; he and John Orphanotrophus were taken by the mob, and the next day Theodora ordered both Michael V and John Orphanotrophus blinded. Zoe allowed Theodora to share her throne, and the two sisters ruled for seven weeks until Zoe married the eminent senator Constantine Monomachus, a third marriage for both of them.

On the following day Constantine IX (r. 1042-1055) was crowned Emperor, and he soon brought his mistress Sclerina into the palace; Zoe was not jealous and even agreed to call her Augusta. Constantine elevated Sclerena's brother Romanus Sclerus, who from personal enmity persuaded him to recall the outstanding general Maniaces while Sclerus ravaged his estates and threatened the general's wife. Maniacus had been trying to conquer Sicily. His replacement was assassinated, and his troops proclaimed him Emperor. Crossing from Italy to Dyrrachium to gain support from Bogislav's Serbs, who had defeated an imperial army the previous year, they marched on Thessalonica; but in 1043 they were defeated by the Byzantine army, and Maniaces was killed. Demanding compensation for a brawl in the capital that had killed one of their nobleman, 100,000 Russians invaded in 1043; but once again Greek fire burned their ships, and it was reported that 15,000 Russian corpses washed ashore. Imperial forces chased the Russians on land back to the Black Sea. To seal the peace a Greek princess was married to Iaroslav's son Vsevolod.

On his death-bed Constantine VIII had returned Basil's agreement with Armenia to a priest, who sold the paper back to Michael IV in 1034. After John Smbat died in 1040, Armenians led by general Vahram defeated a Byzantine army, leaving 20,000 dead and wounded around the walls of Ani. Vahram crowned Gagik II (r. 1042-1046), and an imperial army sent by Constantine IX was defeated. The Emperor invited Gagik to Constantinople to sign a peace treaty but then imprisoned him when he refused to turn over Ani. The Catholicos Petros sold the keys of Ani to the Byzantines, who then banished and poisoned Armenian princes and installed a Greek garrison. Armenia was made into a Byzantine province but was attacked by the Turks led by Tughril-Beg in 1049.

Many people were scandalized by Constantine IX openly having a wife and a mistress, and a riot broke out during a royal procession in 1044. Sclerina died not long after that. He took an Alan princess as a mistress; but when Zoe died in 1050, he did not marry the Alan out of respect for Theodora. Emperor Constantine appreciated learning, and in 1045 he revived Constantinople's university with a curriculum that included the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) and a school of law headed by John Xiphilinus. Michael Psellus was in charge of philosophy, and other teachers included his former teacher John Mauropus and friends Constantine Leichudes, Michael Cerularius, and Nicetas Byzantius. However, so many disputes occurred that the Emperor closed the school after about five years; Leichudes and Mauropus were disgraced, and Xiphilin and Psellus became monks, though the latter returned to court when Constantine died.

Constantine also had built several hospitals and refuges for the poor. Meanwhile the wealthy aristocrats and the ecclesiastical estates were given more privileges exempting them from taxation. Many were rewarded with grants of land called pronoia for a period of time, though the land could not be sold nor inherited. In this feudal system these landlords and tax farmers developed their own administrations parallel to the state, while most people bore increased burdens. In the provinces the power of the generals gave way to civil praetors, and the reduction in local militias reverted the empire to the old days of hiring mercenaries, now usually Russian and English Varangians and Normans rather than Goths.

In 1047 a Macedonian revolt was led by the Emperor's cousin Leo Tornicius, who had been separated from Constantine's sister Euprepia. Leo was proclaimed Emperor at Adrianopolis, and his army marched to the walls of Constantinople, where they tried to win over the population by persuasion. When this failed, Leo had missed his opportunity to storm the gates. The imperial army arrived from Armenia, and Leo's forces were then easily defeated; Constantine granted all the rebels amnesty except that Leo with his most loyal supporter Vatatzes were blinded. In 1048 the Patzinaks crossed the Danube in such large numbers that they were allowed to stay and were encouraged to serve as garrisons, though their penchant for banditry resulted in imperial forces being sent. After several defeats the Byzantines resorted to bestowing gifts, land grants, and court titles on Patzinak chiefs.

When Patriarch Alexius died in 1043, Constantine had appointed his top minister Michael Cerularius, who had become a monk in 1040 when he was banished for a conspiracy against Emperor Michael IV. In 1052 he ordered all Catholic churches in his diocese to conform to orthodox practices; when they refused, he closed them down. Cerularius got the Greek Archbishop Leo of Ochrida to write a letter denouncing Roman usage that was sent to the Orthodox Church's representative in Italy and was meant for the Pope. Much was made of the most trivial issues such as the orthodox use of leavened bread or whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. More significant were the political differences as the Byzantine and papal armies had just been defeated by the Normans. Emperor Constantine actually wanted closer relations to keep the empire together; but Pope Leo IX sent a delegation headed by the difficult Cardinal Humbert, who could not get along with the ambitious Cerularius. In 1054 Humbert deposited a polemical tract in the cathedral of St. Sophia. Cerularius persuaded Constantine to call a synod that excommunicated the Roman legates. The schism between the Eastern and Western churches that had threatened for so long now became a fact that still persists.

Constantine IX died in 1055, and for the next twenty months the elderly Theodora, the last of the Macedonian dynasty started by Basil I, ruled in her own name. As she was dying, she selected as her successor a retired official who became Michael VI. He was so verbally abusive at a meeting of his top military leaders that in June 1057 they proclaimed Isaac Comnenus Emperor in Paphlagonia. They defeated the imperial forces sent against them, and Michael sent Psellus to negotiate, offering Isaac almost equal power as Caesar in a lawful manner to avoid usurpation; but the opposition party in the capital rose against Michael.

Patriarch Michael Cerularius also supported the change, and after Michael VI abdicated to become a monk, he crowned Isaac (r. 1057-1059) on September 1. Constantine Leichudes headed the administration, and Psellus became president of the Senate. To gain funds Isaac began confiscating property, including that of the Church, causing Cerularius to make him give up administration of the St. Sophia cathedral and pledge not to interfere in ecclesiastical concerns. Thus this Patriarch changed the long-standing tradition of imperial control over the Orthodox Church. When it was reported that Cerularius donned purple boots implying his imperial ambition, Emperor Isaac waited until he left the capital to visit a monastery and had him arrested and exiled in November 1058. Cerularius would not resign, and Isaac had to summon a synod to depose him. Cerularius died while they were meeting, and Constantine Leichudes became Patriarch, as Psellus moved up to prime minister. A year later Psellus and the Church persuaded an ill Isaac to retire into the Studite monastery.

Psellus and Patriarch Leichudes now made their friend Constantine Ducas Emperor as Constantine X (r. 1059-1067). He not only continued to farm out taxes, but he even sold the highest offices in the finance department. According to his prime minister Psellus, Constantine concentrated on giving justice to injured parties, annulling unjust contracts, and he vowed to abstain from all violence, including corporal punishment. The army was neglected, and the empire began to crumble. Normans led by Robert Guiscard took over South Italy. Hungarians occupied the Danube fortress at Belgrade in 1064, and that autumn Patzinaks and Uzes poured into the Balkans, plundering as they went. Constantine did mobilize an army, but only a severe epidemic caused many Uzes to retreat back across the Danube while others settled down or entered imperial service. Constantine alienated Armenians by persecuting the Christian Monophysites. The Seljuk Turks led by Alp Arslan invaded Armenia, taking Ani in 1065; they devastated Cilicia and captured Caesarea in 1067. When Constantine X died, Empress Eudocia became regent for her young sons; but the government was run by Psellus and the late Emperor's brother John Ducas as Caesar.

Many called for a revitalized military, and Eudocia was persuaded to marry the general Romanus Diogenes (r. 1068-1071), who became Emperor on the first day of the new year. He gathered an army of mercenaries that included Patzinaks, Uzes, Normans, and Franks while the last Byzantine stronghold in Italy at Bari was besieged for three years by Guiscard's Franks until it fell in April 1071. In the East initial victories were canceled by a disastrous defeat north of Lake Van in Armenia at Manzikert in 1071. The Turkish Uzes went over to the Muslims; Armenians and the Franks led by Roussel deserted; and the forces under Andronicus Ducas fled in panic. The Seljuks led by Alp Arslan captured Emperor Romanus, and he agreed to pay a ransom and annual tribute, pledging to release Turkish prisoners and provide military aid. In Constantinople this treaty was rejected, and Romanus was deposed.

For a few months Empress Eudocia tried to rule with her eldest son Michael; but on October 24, 1071 Psellus had his former student crowned as Michael VII (r. 1071-1078). When Romanus returned, a brief civil war ended in his surrendering for immunity; his eyes were put out, and Romanus died the next year. Since the treaty was void, the Seljuks continued their attacks in Asia Minor. A desperate Michael VII appealed to Pope Gregory VII and the West. The next year at Prizren in Zeta Constantine Bodin was crowned czar, and this Balkan insurrection was quelled with great difficulty by imperial forces led by Nicephorus Bryennius. Croat king Peter Cresimir (r. 1058-1074) expanded his realm, and his successor Demetrius Zvonimir was crowned by papal legates, as was Michael of Zeta in 1077.

In the north Michael VII stopped the gifts to the Patzinaks and Uzes, and so they pillaged the province of Adrianople and besieged Constantinople. At the capital wheat became so expensive that the Emperor became known as Michael Parapinaces, because a nomisma gold coin was required "for a quarter" (para pinakion) of a medimnus of wheat. He followed the advice of Logothete Nicephoritzes rather than Psellus in trying to counter feudal tendencies by re-centralizing the bureaucracy and making the wheat trade a state monopoly; but increased bread prices sent labor costs up. A mob razed the storehouse in Rhaedestus to the ground, and after Michael fell from power, the hated Nicephoritzes was tortured to death.

While Michael was absorbed in rhetorical trials and debates, military revolts were led by the Norman Roussel of Bailleul, who supported Caesar John Ducas for Emperor. Byzantine power called on the Turks, who captured Roussel and ransomed him to the imperial general Alexius Comnenus. Soon Alexius was using Roussel to help fight against others trying to claim the throne. Dyrrachium commander Nicephorus Bryennius was proclaimed Emperor at Adrianople in 1077 and marched on Constantinople. In Asia Minor the military governor of the Anatolikon theme, Nicephorus Botaneiates, also claimed to be Emperor in January 1078 and approached the capital from the other side. While he was at Nicaea, a revolt in the capital supported by the Church compelled Michael VII to abdicate and become a Studite monk.

Nicephorus Botaneiates (r. 1078-1081) was crowned by the Patriarch and married Empress Maria even though her husband was still alive. The struggles between military commanders continued as Nicephorus Melissenus was proclaimed at Nicaea in 1080 and appealed to Suleiman, as had Botaneiates. The Turks used these alliances to conquer Asia Minor and founded a Roman province for Islam called Rum in the homeland of the former Byzantine empire. At the capital mint the gold coin respected as the Byzantine nomisma, which had rarely fluctuated for centuries, was now mixed with an alloy. In 1081 Alexius Comnenus emerged as the most distinguished general and married Irene Ducas; he promised Empress Maria he would be guardian of her boy Constantine Ducas. Alexius refused to give Nicephorus Melissenus what was left of Asia Minor, but he promised to make him Caesar. German troops helped Alexius enter the capital; after three days of fighting and looting, Botaneiates abdicated, and on Easter Alexius Comnenus (r. 1081-1118) was crowned Byzantine Emperor.

After capturing the island of Corfu, Normans led by Robert Guiscard, Duke of Apulia, besieged the Byzantine stronghold at Dyrrachium in 1081 and invaded Epirus, Macedonia, and Thessaly as far as Larissa. When Byzantines in Italy rose up, Robert returned there, leaving his son Bohemund in command. Alexius made a treaty with Suleiman at Nicaea so that his troops would be free to fight in the West. The next year the Doge of Venice was given extraordinary trading privileges including warehouses at Constantinople to get the support of his navy in the Adriatic. The Emperor with an army, which included Slavs, Turks, and his English-Varangian bodyguards, regained Thessaly, and the Venetians helped bring Dyrrachium back into the empire. After subduing the revolt in Italy, Robert returned to the fight; but he died of a plague in 1085. Constantine Bodin of Zeta had withdrawn his support from the Byzantines, and other Dalmatian cities sided with the Normans. Bogomile leaders from Philippopolis were punished by Alexius for betraying the imperial cause, resulting in a mutiny led by Traulus, who appealed to the Patzinaks. In 1086 they were defeated, but the Patzinaks routed the Byzantine forces at Dristra (Silistria), nearly capturing Alexius.

The wars fought with mercenaries were expensive, and the fiscal pressure caused revolts on Cyprus and Crete by two independent chiefs; but they were quelled by the Grand Drungarius Ducas, and these islands continued to be important Byzantine naval bases. At the capital regent Anna Dalassena, mother of Alexius, had confiscated money from the churches, outraging public opinion. Alexius had to pledge reparations and annual payments. In 1086 Alexius himself failed to gain funds from the churches, and three years later the Emperor had to assuage the public by promulgating a new law forbidding the Emperor from taking Church property. For a while the Patzinaks were busy fighting the Cumans, who were pushing them south. The Patzinaks soon spread to Philippopolis and Adrianople, and in 1090 they besieged Constantinople by land and sea. Alexius gained the Cumans as allies, and in April 1091 they nearly wiped out the Patzinaks near Mt. Levunion. Smyrna emir Tzachas, who had contributed his fleet to the Patzinak attack and was calling himself Emperor, was also defeated. Alexius next managed to get the Nicaea emir Abul Kasim to kill Tzachas and make a treaty with the Byzantines, as did his successor Kilij Arslan, son of Suleiman.

In 1092 Alexius felt secure enough to recognize his son John as heir to the throne, displacing Constantine Ducas. Several assassination attempts were made on behalf of the Ducas family, and in 1094 Alexius had Nicephorus Diogenes, Cecaumenus Catacalon, and Taronites arrested; their property was confiscated, and they were banished. Later Diogenes and Catacalon were blinded, but historian Anna Comnena claimed she did not know whether her father Alexius had given his consent or not. Emperor Alexius moved against Serbs to stop the raids of Vukan of Rascia in 1094. The Cumans turned to plundering the region of Adrianople and even offered a pretender to the throne; but he was captured and blinded, and the disorganized Cumans were scattered by imperial forces. During these crises Alexius had probably asked for help from the West by writing a letter to Flanders Count Robert, but none would come until Pope Urban II made his appeal in 1095. The strong leadership of Alexius had enabled the Byzantine empire to regain some stability just prior to the epoch-making Crusades.

Eastern Europe 1095-1250
Crusaders, Greeks, and Muslims

Barlaam and Ioasaph and Digenis Akritas

The epic Barlaam and Ioasaph first became known to the world in the middle of the 11th century as by John the Monk of the St. Sabbas monastery. Later copyists probably wrongly identified the author as John of Damascus (8th century). The framework of the story is set in India, and it clearly contains elements from stories of the famous Buddha (6th century BC). These stories of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva tradition found there way into Muslim culture as the Arabic Kitab Bilawhar wa-Yudasaf, which was current in Baghdad in the 8th century. A Christianized adaptation became the Georgian Balavariani romance about a century later. An Abasgian or West Georgian monk named Euthymius, who was a contemporary of Symeon and became abbot of the Iviron monastery at Mount Athos, converted the story from the Indian idiom into Greek sometime before he was killed while visiting Constantinople in 1028. There the final Greek work was translated into Latin in 1048 and soon became well known as Barlaam and Ioasaph. Early Manichaean influences in its philosophy account for its popularity among the Albigensians in Medieval Europe. Translated into many European languages such as Old Slavonic, Russian, French, German, Italian, Norse, and English, the poem was quite influential in the late medieval period, affecting French and Italian miracle plays, dramas by Lope de Vega and Calderon, and the casket fable in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

The author began by noting that the disciple Thomas took the message of the Christ to India, and many Indians soon retired as monks and lived like angels. However, King Abenner still followed idolatry and persecuted the Christians. His chief satrap was converted and told the king to remove Anger and Desire from his court; but the king ignored him. Astrologers prophesied that Abenner's son Ioasaph would reign over a great new kingdom. So his father kept him from seeing any sign of old age, illness, poverty, death or Christian monks so that his life would be nothing but pleasure. As a young man Ioasaph grew restless of his royal imprisonment and asked his father to release him. One day the prince saw a blind man and a maimed man. Then he saw an old man, and he asked his tutor about them. An elderly monk named Barlaam disguised himself as a merchant and told the tutor he had a very precious and magical gem for the prince.

Admitted to Ioasaph, Barlaam began to tell him pertinent folk-tales (probably from India), showing that things are not always what they appear to be outwardly. In between these stories Barlaam expounds at length the basic teachings of the Christian religion, beginning with God's creation of Adam and his temptation by the devil, mentioning the flood, Abraham, and Moses before describing the incarnation of Jesus. Barlaam tells Ioasaph about baptism and the day of judgment. To elaborate Barlaam retells several parables of Jesus and quotes the prophet Isaiah and other scripture. He explains how Ioasaph can be saved from the doom of sinners. Ioasaph wants to be baptized but asks what happens if he sins after being baptized. Barlaam explains about penitence and tears that can purge the soul, recalling the parables of the prodigal son and the good shepherd. (Mentioning tears indicates a possible influence from Symeon.)

When Ioasaph asks what he should do, Barlaam tells him about hermits and monks, who live ascetically for purification. Barlaam's folk-tale describes how a king can send treasure to a future kingdom that awaits him after death by giving charity to the poor. Jesus told the rich man to sell all his property and follow him. Barlaam explains about free will which puts virtue in one's own power. Ioasaph wants to flee the world to find the glory of God. Barlaam explains what death is and how he came to change his monk's clothing. Ioasaph offers to give alms to Barlaam and his monks, but Barlaam assures him they are truly wealthy without material treasures; it would be better for Ioasaph to give to the poor. After instructing him in Christian doctrines such as the trinity and the veneration of images, Barlaam baptizes Ioasaph. Barlaam exhorts him to practice virtue and pray. After Barlaam leaves, Ioasaph's tutor Zardan tells the king about Barlaam's visit. The king calls on his counselor Araches to bring back his son to his native faith, referred to here as idolatry, and sends him after Barlaam. Araches captures a band of monks and brings them back to the king, who asks them about their relics. The chief monk reproaches the king, who threatens them with torture; but they welcome martyrdom, and all seventeen are killed.

Unable to find Barlaam, Araches takes the diviner Nachor and tells the king he is Barlaam. The king pleads with his son Ioasaph to give up his new faith, but instead the prince tries to convert his father to Christianity. So the king decides to sponsor a debate on religion. Barachias is the only Christian with the courage to appear before their persecutor. Ioasaph persuades Nachor to defend Christianity well. Nachor begins the debate by criticizing the idolatry of Chaldean cosmic religion and of the Greek gods and goddesses. He blames the Jews for denying Christ, but he praises the Christians as being the only ones to know and practice the truth. Without the other views being presented, Ioasaph commends Nachor's triumph and takes him to his palace, though he knows he is not Barlaam. Nachor confesses his deceit and is baptized by a monk in the desert.

Next the magician Theudas promises the king that his son's new religion will be defeated. Fair damsels are used to tempt Ioasaph; but he prays and mortifies his flesh with fasts and vigils. A beautiful princess asks Ioasaph to wed her; but he says he has taken a vow of chastity. After falling asleep and having a heavenly vision that also shows him the torment of sinners, Ioasaph lays in bed. His father visits him, and Theudas again tries to persuade the prince; but Ioasaph denounces the idolatry of Theudas with its images of human vices. Theudas says the powerful are on his side, while Ioasaph points to the success of Christ's message. Finally Theudas burns his magic books and is baptized.

Araches advises King Abenner to give Ioasaph half his kingdom. The prince has a Christian temple built and leads his people into the Christian faith. Wealth is distributed to the poor, and Ioasaph's kingdom thrives. Outshone, Abenner writes to his son, who comes and teaches him Christian doctrine. King Abenner destroys the "idols" and is baptized a Christian; then his kingdom prospers too. After his father dies, Ioasaph renounces his kingdom and appoints the reluctant Barachias king, telling him to be merciful to all. Ioasaph goes into the desert and prays he will find Barlaam. After facing temptations by the devil, Ioasaph lives in the desert for two years. Then he is guided to Barlaam, who hardly recognizes him. After many years together Barlaam passes out of his body. Ioasaph has a vision of a heavenly city and talks to the spirit of Barlaam before he too dies. King Barachias takes their bodies to his kingdom, where the relics of these two saints are venerated.

This story conveys the teachings of the Christian religion as taught by Jesus and practiced by monks. Yet its setting in India and use of the Buddha's renunciation of his royal heritage shows a lack of understanding of the Buddha himself and the very spiritual religions of India that pre-date Christianity by many centuries. While the Christian teachings are good, the attitude toward other religions is rather intolerant and self-righteous. Thus the story reflects a Christian fantasy of religious conquest over an unknown culture in the East.

Digenis Akritas was perhaps the most popular poem of its era. Composed and enhanced over the centuries, several different texts exist. The Grottaferrata version has been well translated into English by Denison B. Hull as The Two-Blood Border Lord. The title could also be translated The Half-Breed Border Protector. The legend of this hero named Basil is set in the late ninth and early tenth centuries in the region where the Anatolic theme of the Byzantine empire meets the Syrian lands of the Muslims near the Euphrates River. The first book is about Basil's parents. His father is a Muslim emir, who falls in love with the daughter of a Christian general from the royal Ducas family. The emir carries her off and is pursued by her brothers. The Saracen challenges them to single combat and is defeated by the youngest; but he refuses to turn her over, instead asking to marry her and offering to become a Christian.

After Basil is born, the emir returns to his mother in Syria before bringing her back as a convert to settle among the Christians. Basil is given three years of lessons and shows his great strength as a youth by killing bears with his bare hands. He courts the carefully guarded daughter of a general at her window until she allows him to carry her away. He kills the soldiers sent after him; but for her sake he spares her brothers, and her father agrees to the marriage, offering a fabulous dowry. Yet the noble Basil declines the wealth, which he gives to her brothers. The wedding celebration lasts three months, and her first brother gives him ten young eunuchs as slaves.

Basil takes up his duty of guarding the border. In one episode Basil finds a bride deserted by her husband; he saves her from robbers and takes pleasure from her by force, although he feels ashamed for his sin afterwards. Basil protects his wife by killing a dragon, a lion, and many soldiers. He defeats in combat three experienced outlaws, who appeal to the Amazon Maximo. She challenges Basil to single combat, and he defeats her. They meet alone and make love; but after going home to his wife, he goes back and kills Maximo. Basil's father dies, and five years later his mother passes on too. In the last book Basil dies of lumbago at the same time as his wife, and he is honored by many for his heroic deeds. This story reflects the frequent clashes between the Roman empire and the Muslims and the Byzantine desire to see Muslims converted to their religion, while offering fantasies of a stupendous warrior.


1. Maximus the Confessor, The Four Hundred Chapters on Love 1:31-36 tr. George C. Berthold.
2. Ibid., 3:4.
3. Butler's Lives of the Saints ed. Michael Walsh, p. 181.

Copyright © 2000-2004 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book MEDIEVAL EUROPE 610-1250. For ordering information, please click here.


Byzantine Empire 610-1095
Franks and Anglo-Saxons 613-899
Vikings and Feudal Europe 900-1095
Crusaders, Greeks, and Muslims
Central and Eastern Europe 1095-1250
Western Europe 1095-1250
Christian Ethics 1095-1250
European Literature 1095-1250
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronology 30 BC to 750 CE
Chronology of Europe to 1400

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