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17.12.29, Matheou, et al., eds., From Constantinople to the Frontier

17.12.29, Matheou, et al., eds., From Constantinople to the Frontier

Between 28th February and 1st March 2014 the Oxford University Byzantine Society organized its 16th International Graduate Conference. The twenty-five contributions selected to be published in this volume examine various kinds of relations between the capital and other cities located in the mainland or on the borderlands. They are accompanied by an introduction written by Averil Cameron, which summarizes the contents of the studies. The book is divided into seven parts: "The City"; "Connections & Coercion"; "The Civic & The Holy"; "The Cities"; "Reception & Response"; "A Metropolitan Education: Texts & Contexts"; "To the Frontier."

The first study, by Lynton Boshoff, "Looking Eastwards: The Regina Orientis in Sidonius Apollinaris' Carmen 2," presents the particular image of Constantinople resulting from this panegyric dedicated in 468 to the Roman emperor Anthemius, an Oriental imposed by emperor Leo I: the image is a very vague one in comparison with the emphasis laid on the declining West, pictured as more important than it really was at that time. "Sidonius manages to proclaim Rome and Romanitas as the victor, to the detriment of its upstart counterpart in the East" (24). In "L'identité romaine est-elle exclusive à Constantinople? Dichotomie entre Byzance et les Balkans à l'époque médiobyzantine (VIe-XIIe siècles)," Vincent Tremblay begins with several considerations on how the idea of frontier evolved in the Byzantine political and military thinking as limit between Civilization and the Barbarian world. One such borderland was along the Danube, an area which the author discusses in connection with the changing content of the notion of Rhomaic identity from the 4th to the 12th century. The decline of urban life in the Empire led to the self-perception that Constantinople remained the single place of the true civilization and the Danube ceased to be a clear-cut limit of the Barbarian world. Peoples like the Bulgarians and the Serbs were seen as a kind of domesticated barbarians and the expression mixobarbaroi applied to the population of Paradunavon is suggestive of this mentality: "alors que pendant l'Antiquité tardive, l'identité romaine conservait une flexibilité suffisante pour attirer dans ses rangs les élites barbares et constituait un attrait susceptible de diluer, puis de supplanter les identités locales, a l'époque mediobyzantine, la romanité se transforme en cocon de plus en plus imperméable et de plus en plus réservé aux Constantinopolitains. Des lors, des peuples entiers, soumis de manière temporaire ou durablement par Byzance, et convertis au christianisme, n'ont jamais été considères comme des Romains a part entière. C'est le cas, par exemple, des Serbes et des Bulgares" (34). The author seems to be ignorant of another people that shared the same treatment, the survivors of the Romanized population who lived in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Thessaly and Epirus, who called themselves armâni (from Romani), They are the southern branch of the Romanian people. Because the Byzantines could not recognize them as Romani, although being aware of the latter's descent from Roman colonists, the Byzantine name given to them was one borrowed from the Slavophones: Blachoi (from vlah). The Byzantine sources render an image of the Vlachs which is similar to if not worse than that of the Bulgarians and the Serbs. [1] The following study, "City and Sovereignty in East Roman Thought, c.1000-1200: Ioannes Zonaras' Historical Vision of the Roman State" by Nicholas S. M. Matheou, is an analysis of Zonaras' political ideas. The key concepts were basileia, seen by Zonaras as "the collective expression of an ethnos' sovereignty" (56), developed from aristokratia to demokratia, and politeia ("the East Roman political body as a whole, permanent throughout its existence in various 'aristocratic', 'democratic', and 'monarchical' forms" [50]). Zonaras laid down the changes of the Roman constitutional history from ancient monarchy to the foundation of Constantinople, when the modern Roman history began, and considered that a proper constitution lasted only until the reign of Basil II.

The first study of the second section, "Furnish Whatever is Lacking to Their Avarice': The Payment Programme of Cyril of Alexandria" by Walter F. Beers, deals with an eternal problem: the traffic of influence, in this case directed to church affairs. The letter of Epiphanius, the secretary of the bishop of Alexandria, provides a long list of briberies offered to support his position in the Council of Ephesus. There were two categories of recipients: civil officials, and servants of emperor Theodosius II and of empress Pulcheria. If the practice of bribery was something usual and tolerated, what was special in this case was the large amount of gold (1080 pounds) and goods. The next study, by Andrew M. Small, "Constantinopolitan Connections: Liudprand of Cremona and Byzantium," also deals with a kind of influence, but of the foreign visitors to the imperial court, the members of a family of Cremona who have diplomatic missions to Constantinople. The study insists on the influence gained by Liudprand and previously by his stepfather at Constantinople, influence that strengthened their position at the court of Pavia, and on the existence of contradictory foreign policies in connection with different foreign clients. The study of Jonas Nilsson, "Strengthening Justice through Friendship and Friendship through Justice: Michael Psellos and the Provincial Judges," presents another kind of traffic of influence, in the letters written by this illustrious man to several provincial judges on behalf of his friends. Psellos argued that there was no contradiction between justice and friendship, even when a candidate to a job, a favourite of him, was judged as incompetent. Yet, he was usually asking for an impartial judgment. Nilsson considers that "the judicial administration lacked the institutional rigour to independently guarantee just outcomes, and that it therefore needed to be reinforced by the positive influence of righteous and trustworthy men" (104), and that "the Byzantine state essentially relied on private networks to exercise public power in the provinces. This lack of distinction between private and public power meant that the magistrates of the empire could, did, and indeed were expected to use the influence gained through their offices to benefit themselves and their friends" (98).

The third part is opened by the study of Robson Della Torre, "Eusebius' Caesarea: The Writing of History and the Dynamics of Ecclesiastical Politics in Fourth-Century Palestine." The author demonstrates that Eusebius ascribed a prominent position to his city in comparison with Alexandria, because the Christian community was established there by Saint Peter, like in Rome, while that of Alexandria was founded by Saint Mark. He did so to support the doctrine of Origene, who lived in Caesarea, and especially because he needed to detach this bishopric from the influence of Alexandria. The next contribution, "Spectatorship in City and Church in Late Antiquity: Theoria Returns to the Festival" by Byron MacDougall, shows how the pilgrimage to and the contemplation of pagan feasts were inherited by Christian pilgrimages and transferred to the saints festivals: "philosophical rhetors, pagan and eventually Christian, turn festivals into venues for the performance of Platonic theoria--that is, the contemplation of divine truths" (130). Saint Gregory of Nazianz had a major contribution to this conversion of the Platonic contemplation of divine to a Christian form, in the panegyrics for Christmas and Easter. The next study, "Constantinople and the Desert City: Imperial Patronage of the Judaean Desert Monasteries, 451-565" by Daniel Neary, features the evolution of the material support provided by the emperors to the monasteries whose number largely increased in the Judean desert in the second half of the 5th century (73 were identified as from the age of Justinian). The patronage for these monasteries by Anastasios and Justinian I was important for the imperial propaganda. The involvement of the bishops in the defence of the cities is discussed by David Gyllenhaal, in "Citadels of Prayer: The Christian Polis under Siege from the Summer of 502 to the Summer of 626." The bishops became the true leaders of the urban communities, and in some cases assumed defence command, being called strategoi. When they failed to perform such functions, the spiritual defence of the cities came to be ascribed to the holy relics and icons, and to the saints who protected them, for instance the Mother of God at Constantinople and Saint Demetrios at Thessaloniki. The author studied the eastern frontier in particular, but a relevant analogy could be added with respect to the Danubian limes, where the bishop of Oescus commanded a local militia in the neighboring town Asemus, in 595. [2]

In the next section, the study of Pavla Drapelova, "Province in Contrast to City: Irregularities and Peculiarities in the Coinage of Antioch (518–565)," proves how some differences observed in the features of the coins minted in Antioch could be explained by a decline of the technology during the difficult times experienced by this city (the big earthquake of 526 and several Persian attacks), and that these emissions were produced especially for the local population. The study "Rome in the Seventh-Century Byzantine Empire: A Migrant's Network Perspective from the Circle of Maximos the Confessor" by Philipp Winterhager approaches a topical issue--the migration of individuals--in the context of the relations between West and East, one of such individuals being this saint who was opposing the doctrine of monothelism supported by emperor Constans II. His letters attest that the exile in Rome did not hinder him from preserving multiple contacts with his friends living in different places of the empire. The subject matter of next study exceeds the limits of the empire, being dedicated to "Rus' Dynastic Ideology in the Frescoes of the South Chapels in St. Sophia, Kiev" by Sarah C. Simmons. The conversion of Vladimir to Christianity was a political act, and his son Jaroslav I continued to use the new religion to support his power. His dynastic ideology expressed in the frescos of the first Kievan church consisted, as Simmons demonstrates, in the identification of Vladimir as a new Constantine: "Vladimir and Anna, a new Constantine and a new Helena, established Christianity in Kievan Rus', and their son, Jaroslav, built St. Sophia as the New Temple in the Rus' principality. The nuanced use of Byzantine visual vocabulary in St. Sophia's fresco program demonstrates how Jaroslav appropriated and adapted Orthodox Byzantine visual language into a new narrative of Rus' royal legitimacy and authority" (221). The next study, "The Miracle Cycle between Constantinople, Thessalonike, and Mistra" by Maria Alessia Rossi, also relies on iconography. Comparing the representations of the theme in the churches of Chora (Constantinople), Saint Euthymios (Thessaloniki) and Aphendiko (Mistra), the author makes it clear that all the founders belong to the court of Andronikos II, the emperor who acted against the union with the Roman church accepted by his father Michael VIII: "To do so, he promoted the religious element and the Patriarchate as the ramparts of the Byzantine Empire by means of newly active shrines, saints' relics, and the creation of a beneficent atmosphere in which a Renaissance could take place. The proliferation of miraculous shrines, miracle accounts, saints' lives, and of the Miracle Cycle should be read as part of a broader trend, pursued by Andronikos II and his entourage" (228).

Cecilia Palombo commences the fifth section with the study entitled Constantinople and Alexandria between the Seventh and Eighth Centuries: The Representation of Byzantium in Christian Sources from Conquered Egypt, which uses Coptic and Arabic sources less known by the Byzantinists to clarify the attitude of the local population to the Byzantine Empire, after the Arabian conquest. This attitude was determined by the uniqueness of the Egyptian Christianity, divided between Chalcedonians and Monophysites. In apocalyptic terms, the defeat of the Rhomaioi by the Muslims was perceived by the Monophysites as a divine punishment; the rise of Islam was interpreted as a liberation of the true Christians from the Byzantine yoke. Another apocalyptic text is studied by Christopher Bonura ("A Forgotten Translation of Pseudo-Methodius in Eighth-Century Constantinople: New Evidence for the Dispersal of the Greek Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius during the Dark Age Crisis"). The text written in Syriac at the end of the 7th century which prophesized the final victory of the Christians over the Muslims at the end of time was soon translated into Armenian, Greek and next into Latin, becoming very popular in the entire Christian world. The author considers that the translator into Greek was an Armenian bishop, Stephen of Siwnik, working in Constantinople. The following study, "Comprendre les 'Sarrasins' à Byzance dans la première moitié du IXe siècle" by Jakub Sypiański, determines the categories of Byzantines who entered in contact with the Sarasins: the Melkite (Chalcedonian) Christians living in the Caliphate, the soldiers, and the elite of Constantinople. The Palestinian refugees arrived in the monasteries since the second half of the 8th century left significant testimonies about the danger of Islam, and their disciples wrote constantly about the evil nature of that religion and of the Arabs. Outside this intellectual circle, the knowledge about the Caliphate was scarce. This knowledge came especially by diplomatic contacts initiated by emperor Theophilos. The result was a rivalry between the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate, a competition of prestige in court ceremonial and scientific achievements in the short period of the revival of iconoclasm. After the defeat of Amorion in 838, the frontier warfare in Anatolia inspired new works of the iconodule monks, in the same context of the reaction against Islam.

The sixth section begins with the study of Jeremiah Coogan, "Byzantine Manuscript Colophons and the Prosopography of Scribal Activity." A corpus of 401 manuscripts dated before 1200 was studied from the point of view of the colophons that mentioned the scribes. The author has established the categories of scribes according to their monastic or civilian function, and to the place of activity. An interesting conclusion is that "While individual scribes occupied one sphere or the other, with remarkably little overlap demonstrable, the monastic and administrative spheres shared a common ecclesiastical context, which may be the reason that the division of scribal contexts did not result in a significant segregation of the textual field itself. With few exceptions, both settings for scribal activity transmitted the same sorts of texts and employed the same conventions, including colophons themselves" (307). Theofili Kampianaki, in "Sayings Attributed to Emperors of Old and New Rome in Michael Psellos' Historia Syntomos," gives an insights into another facet of the extensive activity of Michael Psellos. Besides the well-known Chronography, he wrote a History of Rome since foundation up to Basil II, which is full of sayings ascribed to each emperor. Kampianaki demonstrates that Psellos made use of a now lost anthology of such short texts composed most probably in the 8th century. In the following study, "Ulysse, Tzetzès et l'éducation à Byzance," Valeria Flavia Lovato presents the opinions of another great Byzantine writer about the classical tradition. Ioannes Tzetzes was an adversary of the Platonism revived in his time, and in this context the negative image of philosophy is extended to Odysseus, a figure described as a kind of philosopher by a contemporary of Tzetzes, Eustathios.

The last part of the book begins with the study of Nicholas Evans, "Kastron, Rabaḍ and Arḍūn: The Case of Artanuji." This city from Iberia was the power centre of the Bagrationi family and developed as a key position after the decline of the domination of the Abbasid caliphate in the area (they inherited the fiscal organization from the Arabs). Actually, the Bagrationis did not reach a unitary power, and for this reason they looked for consolidation through links with the Abbasid Caliphate and thereafter with the Byzantine Empire. In this context Artanuji was offered at a certain time (in 923) in exchange for the title of kouropalates, but the Byzantine army was compelled to withdraw when the rival ruler menaced with an alliance with the Saracens. This was only a particular case, for in general, as the author states, "both personally and politically, there was much to be gained for rulers and aristocrats in frontier regions from titles and offices that enabled them to secure and maintain access to Constantinople, and to privileged treatment when resident. When necessary, the emperor could go further still, offering not only salaries and gifts of movable wealth, but also grants of Constantinopolitan real estate as a tool in tying Transcaucasian princes to the empire" (352-353). Another periphery of the Byzantine world, Italy, is the subject of the study of Lorenzo M. Bondioli who, in "From the Frontier Cities to the City, and Back? Reinterpreting Southern Italy in the De administrando imperio," investigates the reliability of the account inserted in this source. The author argues that it derives from some Lombard traditions, and that it was afterwards distorted in order to justify the domination in southern Italy and to underestimate the Carolingian expansion. The next study, "Byzantine Art beyond the Borders of the Empire: A Case Study of the Church of St. Chrysogonus in Zara" by Franka Horvat, discusses another particular case, the relations established between the shores of the Adriatic Sea, that also determined artistic influences. The origin of the paintings of this church (dated 1175) can be found in the rock-cut churches of Apulia, and the construction has analogies in Bari. An entirely different matter is presented by Roman Shliakhtin, in "Master of Kastamon, Emperor of Eternity: Ioannes Komnenos as Border-maker and Border-breaker in Theodoros Prodromos' poem 'On the advance to Kastamon'." The victory of Kastamon in Paphlagonia in the year 1134 was inserted in this poem as a pretext to describe the political geography of an imagined universal space centred in Constantinople, and expanded by the military actions of John II Komnenos, in Anatolia (the Seljuq state is called Persia). The author considers that "Prodromos presents the capture of Kastamon and the crossing of Halys as two steps towards the total conquest of all possible barbarians around the borders and all the way to the ends of the world" (434). The volume ends with another study dedicated to the Oriental policy of this emperor, "'Ioannoupolis': Lopadion as 'City' and Military Headquarters under Emperor Ioannes II Komnenos" by Maximilian Lau. The town Lopadion (now Uluabad) existed at an important crossroad since the 9th century, before its name was changed by John Komnenos, when he chose it as a base for future campaigns. It was only a part of a network of fortifications set along the roads in the border region, created to support an in-depth defensive strategy, compared by Lau with the situation in Paradunavon discussed in my book. [3] "Such a network of fortresses, all built along roads and lines of communication and logistics, was built as part of a broad defensive strategy to secure the territory and therefore ensure its prosperity, rather than establish a military frontier, or circle of defence around a specific population centre. More than just Ioannes' rallying point of choice to lunch campaigns, Lopadion was the headquarters of the emperor's defensive strategy, the nerve centre where he could direct operations against the Turks across the Anatolian theatre of war" (447).

This conclusion could be seen as emblematic for the entire collection of studies reviewed here, because it mirrors at a small scale the big problem of the relations between Constantinople and the other cities, and between the frontier and the inner regions. The book will be of great interest for different fields of Byzantine studies.

-------- Notes:

1. For this problem, see for instance: Nicolae Şerban Tanaşoca, "L'image byzantine des Roumains," Revue des Études Sud-Est Européennes 34 (1996), 3-4, 255-263; Thede Kahl, Ethnizität und räumliche Verteilung der Aromunen in Südosteuropa (Münstersche Geographische Arbeiten 43; Münster, 1999), 35-41.

2. Michael Whitby and Mary Whitby, trans. The History of Theophylact Simocatta: An English Translation with Introduction (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 182-183 (VII.3.6).

3. Alexandru Madgearu, Byzantine Military Organization of the Danube, 10th-12th Centuries (East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450, vol. 22; Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2013), 85, 144-150, 169-171.