Shaun Tougher

title.none: Magdalino, ed., Byzantium in the Year 1000 (Shaun Tougher)

identifier.other: baj9928.0405.001 04.05.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Shaun Tougher, Cardiff University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Magdalino, Paul, ed. Byzantium in the Year 1000. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 45. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xx, 284. $91.00 900412097-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.05.01

Magdalino, Paul, ed. Byzantium in the Year 1000. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 45. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xx, 284. $91.00 900412097-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Shaun Tougher
Cardiff University

The ubiquitous image of Basil II from the Venice Psalter adorns the cover of this latest volume of the Brill series The Medieval Mediterranean (signifying the recent pleasing change for this series from separate dust-jackets to decorated binding). Whilst Basil II is not named in the title of the book, its focus on the year 1000 means that he is very much the central subject, since that year falls almost exactly in the middle of his reign (976-1025). The edited volume is a result of a session on Byzantium at the 19th Congress of Historical Sciences at Oslo, and contains most of the papers delivered there as well as some commissioned papers. Whilst the fact that the Congress was held in 2000 provided food for millennial thought (which preoccupies some contributors more than others), the editor Paul Magdalino makes clear in his "Preface" the inherent interest in this phase of Byzantine history. The volume is especially welcome as it provides the opportunity for reflection on Basil II and his age, about which old certainties have begun to be questioned (xi-xii). Did his reign really mark "the peak of Byzantine achievement"? To what extent is his reputation as "grim autocrat" constructed? Was there a deliberate policy of expansionism? The scope of the volume is not just confined to political history, as is reflected in the division of the ten chapters; whilst the first five deal with "imperial power" the last five turn to culture (xiv)

The first chapter is Jonathan Shepard's "Marriages towards the Millennium" (pp. 1-33) which explores in particular the unions of Theophano Skleraina with Otto II and Anna with Prince Vladimir of Rus, and considers what Otto I and Vladimir gained from the marriages but also the impact that the women had on their "host cultures." The decision to make this contribution the first chapter is a good one, as Shepard provides much helpful contextual material on the condition of Byzantium and its relations with its neighbors prior to the reign of Basil II. The strength of Byzantium by the tenth century is stressed by the fact that neighbors now sought Byzantine brides rather than Byzantium taking the initiative to forge such alliances as she had done previously. Whilst the subject of the impact of Theophano on the West is familiar, Shepard, building on the work of Andrzej Poppe, argues that the impact of Anna on the Rus can also be detected.

Chapter 2, Catherine Holmes' "Political Elites in the Reign of Basil II" (pp. 35-69), brings us face to face with the emperor himself in her examination of the extent to which his reign "should be interpreted as a watershed period for Byzantium's political elite and its internal governance." Holmes focuses on the revolts of Bardas Skleros and Bardas Phokas (976-989) and the later revolt of Nikephoros Phokas and Nikephoros Xiphias in 1022, analysing their causes. In the course of her study, Holmes usefully assesses the source material for Basil and his reign, such as the account of Michael Psellos and the infamous Novel of 996. The main thrust of Holmes' argument is to take issue with the traditional view of Basil II's conflict with the politically ambitious and dangerously centrifugal aristocrats, and to suggest instead that the reasons for clashes were "the increased importance of the army and the political authority of the generals"; she proposes that opposition to Basil II was based on disagreement about his foreign policy, that the emperor adopted an active military role in order to control the army, and that the Novel of 996 is more about Basil flexing his muscles in the aftermath of the fall of Basil the Parakoimomenos and creating a powerful image of himself rather than a specific concern about land-grabbing aristocrats. There is much to digest here, and objections can be raised. Holmes herself is well aware that her view of regular campaigning in Bulgaria is not shared by all. One may also feel that Holmes has rather neglected the dynastic dimensions of the issues. The reigns of Nikephoros II Phokas and John I Tzimiskes meant that militarily-active emperors were once again the norm (so perhaps Basil II felt compelled to take on a military role to enhance his imperial credentials), but also that certain aristocratic families felt that they did have a claim to imperial power despite the existence of the Macedonian dynasty.

Suitably the following chapter is by Jean-Claude Cheynet whose work has been so fundamental in our understanding of aristocratic opposition to emperors. His contribution here, "Basil II and Asia Minor" (pp. 71-108), follows his more traditional views and provides a measured assessment of "the impact of Basil II's policy in Asia Minor." Moving through a consideration of diverse topics such as economy, the civil wars, imperial centralization, the army (highlighting the "tagmatisation of the themes"), the emperor's favored personnel and his military objectives, Cheynet emphasises in particular that Basil was as concerned with the East as he was with the West. He concludes that the emperor's legacy was "the durable military and social organisation of Asia Minor," but raises the question of whether Basil II weakened the eastern frontier by demilitarising the themes thus facilitating penetration by the Turks. Cheynet suggests however that dynastic instability in the eleventh century played a crucial role in Byzantium's inability to cope.

Chapter 4, Paul Stephenson's "The Balkan Frontier in the Year 1000" (pp. 109-133), swings the spotlight westwards. Eschewing any clear statement about the objectives of the chapter, Stephenson reflects on Basil II and Bulgaria. He revisits his views that there was a peace treaty in 1005 and that the emperor "had no intention of conquering Bulgaria before 1014," now making particular use of the evidence of the Notitiae Episcopatum. Stephenson also branches out into the question of how Basil achieved his success, and stresses luck, diplomacy, and fear. This latter element makes a neat link with Holmes' chapter, which had stressed the emperor's desire to inspire terror, to construct for himself the image of 'grim autocrat.'

With Chapter 5, Vera von Falkenhausen's "Between Two Empires: Byzantine Italy in the Reign of Basil II" (pp. 135-159), we move further west. Her aim is clearly stated: "to analyse the political interplay between Byzantium and Italy in the time of Basil II." Like Shepard she provides comment on the previous history, and like Holmes she establishes the nature of the evidence upon which we can draw. She then divides her treatment into four chronological segments of Basil's reign (976-989; 989-1005; 1005-1018; 1018-1025), which demonstrates that Byzantium's ability to act in Italy was dependent on the empire-wide situation (e.g. she accepts the view that there was peace with Bulgaria in 1005, arguing that this allowed Basil to pursue 'political designs' in Italy) and that the alliance with Venice was key in providing vital naval support. In particular she highlights the successes experienced under the general Basil Boioannes (though one would have liked more discussion of the Sicilian failure), but also takes time to consider the attitude of the local populations towards Byzantium. She concludes that "As far as Italy is concerned, the near half century of Basil II's autonomous reign provides a text-book example of his general success," but like Cheynet she casts her eyes forward to later eleventh-century problems (in this case the Normans), and considers causes. Amongst these the absence of the naval assistance of Venice is highlighted.

The subsequent five chapters mark the transition to cultural topics, though in terms of page numbers the political topics receive greater coverage. The aspect of culture addressed by Chapter 6, Ludwig Burgmann's "Turning Sisinnios against the Sisinnians: Eustathios Romaios on a Disputed Marriage" (pp. 161-181), is law. This contribution considers a very particular item in the field, a hypomnema of Eustathios Romaios (a judge at the Court of the Hippodrome) on a case of two male cousins (Kosmas and Nikolaos) marrying two female cousins (Maria and Eudokia). Given the complexity of the case the provision of a diagram of the relationships is much appreciated, and it is relief to know that Eustathios had composed one too. Despite the complexity of the cases Burgmann's treatment is admirably accessible. He broadens his study to consider Eustathios' verdicts on other contested marriages, which reveals the "extraordinary verbosity in the case of Nikolaos and Eudokia", though Burgmann resists hypothesising about why this might be so. Whilst there is no doubt about the importance of law in Byzantine culture or the expertise of Burgmann, the nature of this chapter is an oddity of the volume; its intense specificity distinguishes it from all the other chapters, and it does not seem to contribute greatly to our sense of Byzantium in the year 1000.

The subsequent chapter on historiography,Athanasios Markopoulos' "Byzantine History Writing at the End of the First Millennium" (pp. 183-197), is much more useful. Markopoulos surveys the work of tenth-century historiographers from Symeon the Logothete (whose chronicle exists in two versions) to Leo the Deacon, assessing the nature of the historical writing of this "new phase" and establishing issues for investigation. Amongst the characteristics of the historiography he notes are the focus on individuals, the division of histories into lives, the provision of models for emulation, and the interest in the distinguished background of the subjects. He also argues that "it is possible to discern two wholly different, and diametrically opposed, textual subsets": those which reflect the imperial court's view of history (Theophanes Continuatus, Genesios, Logothete B) and those "produced outside the ambit of the court [which] do not exhibit the rhetorical flights of fancy of the histories deriving from the palace" (Logothete A, Pseudo-Symeon, Leo the Deacon). Another aspect that Markopoulos declares "worth investigating" is the use of biography to promote the political aspirations of the subject, such as members of the Phokas family. He reflects "Perhaps it is hasty to speak of professional writers in the service of the powerful from the second half of the tenth century...but I believe that the evidence points in this direction." Whilst Markopoulos' chapter does not end with a major conclusion its reflections profitably open up issues for further investigation.

From historiography we turn to another form of literature with Marc Lauxtermann's "Byzantine Poetry and the Paradox of Basil II's Reign" (pp. 199-216), a contribution distinguished by a bold and individual style. Lauxtermann observes that "In poetry written before and after the year 1000, Basil II is the big absentee" and proceeds to delve into the emperor's notorious anti-intellectual reputation. He notes that Basil was on bad terms with exponents such as John Geometres and Symeon the New Theologian, though others were friends of the emperor but do not seem to have written about him either. The verses that do touch on Basil (such as those in the Venice Psalter and the so-called Menologion of Basil II) emphasize his military achievements, and Lauxtermann asserts "In the military ideology of Basil II there is no place for literature." Sadly (though perhaps soundly) Lauxtermann opines that it is not for us to speculate on the reasons for the anti-intellectual attitude of the emperor, and his chapter concludes by repeating again that the poets were silent simply because Basil did not avail himself of their talents.

Chapter 9 brings us to saints' Lives, Christian Hogel's "Hagiography under the Macedonians: the Two Recensions of the Metaphrastic Menologion" (pp. 217-232). Asserting the importance of the era for the genre ("the time when Byzantine hagiography became literature"), Hogel considers in particular the "practice of metaphrasis" and the liturgical hagiographical collections. Rather than then focusing in particular on the so-called Menologion of Basil II (actually a synaxarion), as might be expected, Hogel turns his attention to the hugely popular Metaphrastic Menologion, produced by Symeon Metaphrastes for Basil II, though it seems it was only officially published under Constantine VIII. Hogel is especially keen to understand the appeal of this text (for monastic communities as well as the elite). He also stresses the differences between the two recensions that can be identified, which leads him to reflect on their respective origins. The interest of Hogel's conclusions is indisputable, but as with Lauxtermann one wishes that there had been more probing of Basil II himself; the story that the emperor and Symeon Metaphrastes fell out and that Basil ordered the Menologion to be burned begged further comment. The final chapter (by the editor himself), "The Year 1000 in Byzantium" (pp. 233-270), places the issue of the millennium centre stage. Whilst some contributors had toyed with the topic (Shepard, Lauxtermann, Hogel), Magdalino gives us the full examination. Reviewing the treatment of the first Christian millennium by modern historians, he notes that "the millennium has never been on the agenda for Byzantine studies." Demonstrating the key dates that concerned the Byzantines, Magdalino goes on to argue that "those in the middle of the seventh Byzantine millennium, corresponding to the first Christian millennium were by far the most important" (thus taking a stance opposed to those who assume that all was "business as usual"), supported by an appendix of eight texts. This argument is entirely convincing, but it is when Magdalino turns to consider the reign of Basil II with this context in mind that his chapter really catches light. He conjures up an inspired and breath-taking vision, bringing together a host of diverse aspects of the age (e.g. the Macedonian Renaissance and its work of summation, the hagiographical collections, Basil's notorious dynastic disinterest, the religious foundations of the emperor and his choice of burial site) and uniting them into an explicable whole: the anticipation of the end of the world. However Magdalino then has to account for the fact that Basil did not target Jerusalem and tackle Islam, and one may feel that his arguments here are less compelling. A final comparison of the feelings of early Christians with those at the end of the first millennium and with ours at the end of the second forms a thoughtful conclusion.

I have no hesitation in recommending this volume. It gathers together expert opinion on a range of aspects of Byzantium in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. As such it fills a gap in the literature (one looks forward to Catherine Holmes' forthcoming monograph on Basil II) and provides us with a very useful "state of the subject." As Magdalino confesses in the "Preface," there are some gaps in the coverage of the volume; the sad deaths of Lenos Mavromatis and Nikos Oikonomides (the joint dedicatees of the volume) deprived us of their contributions on the idea of the nation-state and on the state finances, whilst the church is also among the "notable omissions." No doubt individual readers will be able to formulate their own wish list of additional topics. My choice would be a chapter on the dynasty itself; the volume's scattered discussions of Basil the Parakoimomenos, Basil II's stance as a committed bachelor, and the question of succession emphasize what a fertile area this is. On a more minor note it would have been helpful for each chapter to have been numbered.

A final thought suggests itself; given the clear value of the volume, perhaps there would be mileage in a series.