Excerps from the
History of the
A. A. Vasiliev
2. The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian *
Constantine and Christianity *
The conversion of Constantine *
The Edict of Milan. *
The attitude of Constantine toward the Church. *
Arianism and the Council of Nicaea *
The foundation of Constantinople. *
Reforms of Diocletian and Constantine. *
From Constantine to the Early Sixth Century *
The Church and the state at the end of the fourth century *
Theological disputes and the Third Ecumenical Council *
The Fourth Ecumenical Council *
The Henoticon. *
Literature, learning, education, and art. *
3. Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610) *
Justin I. *
The Reign of Justinian and Theodora. *
Wars with the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths. *
Religious problems and the Fifth Ecumenical Council *
Immediate successors of Justinian. *
Literature, learning, and art. *
4. The Heraclian epoch (610-717) *
External Problems *
Muhammed and Islam. *
Religious Policy of the dynasty *
The Sixth Ecumenical Council and religious peace. *
Origin and development of Theme Organization *
Period of Anarchy (711-17). *
Literature, learning, and art. *
5. The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867) *
The Isaurian or Syrian Dynasty. *
The Council of 754 and its aftermath. *
Successors of the Isaurians and the Phrygian Dynasty (820-67) *
The first Russian attack on Constantinople. *
Literature, learning, and art. *
6. The Macedonian epoch (867-1081) *
The origin of the dynasty. *
External affairs of the Macedonian emperors. *
Social and political developments *
The time of troubles (1056-81) *
Education, learning, literature, and art. *
7. Byzantium and the Crusades *
The Comneni emperors and their foreign policy *
Alexius I and external relations before the First Crusade. *
The First Crusade and Byzantium. *
External relations under John II. *
Foreign policy of the Angeli *
The Fourth Crusade and Byzantium *
Internal affairs under the Comneni and Angeli. *
Ecclesiastical relations. *
Internal administration. *
Education, learning, literature, and art. *
8. The Empire of Nicaea (1204-61) *
New states formed on Byzantine terrirory. *
Beginnings of the Empire of Nicaea and the Lascarids. *
Foreign policy of the Lascarids and the restoration of the Byzantine empire. *
The Seljuq Turks. *
The Latin Empire. *
John III Ducas Vatatzes (1222-1254). *
The Despotat of Epirus and its relation to the Empire of Nicaea. *
Thessalonica and Nicaea. *
The role of Bulgaria in the Christian East under Tsar John Asen II. *
Alliance of John Vatatzes and Frederick II Hohenstaufen. *
The Mongol invasion and the alliance against the Mongols. *
Significance of the external policy of John Vatatzes. *
Theodore and John Lascaris and the restoration of the Byzantine Empire. *
Ecclesiastical relations with the Nicene and Latin empires. *
Social and economic conditions in the empire of nicaea. *
Education, learning, literature, and art. *
Byzantine feudalism. *
9. The fall of Byzantium *
Foreign policy of the Paleologi. *
General situation in the Empire. *
The external policy of Michael VIII. *
The external policy of Byzantium during the reigns of the Andronicoi. *
John V, John VI Cantacuzene and the apogee of Serbian power. *
The policies of Byzantium in the fourteenth century. *
Manuel II (1391-1425) and the Turks. *
John VIII (1425-48) and the Turkish menace. *
Constantine XI (1449-53) and the capture of Constantinople. *
Ecclesiastical problems under the Palaeologi. *
The Union of Lyons. *
The Arsenites. *
The Hesychast movement. *
The conversion to Catholicism of Emperor John V. *
The Union of Florence. *
The question of the Council of St. Sophia. *
Political and social conditions in the Empire. *
Learning, literature, science, and art *
Byzantium and the Italian Renaissance. *
Emperors of the Byzantine Empire *
1.The study of Byzantine history.
This chapter is omitted here.
2. The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian
Constantine and Christianity
The cultural and religious crisis through which the Roman Empire was passing in the fourth century is one of the most significant events in the history of the world. The old pagan culture came into collision with Christianity, which received official recognition during the reign of Constantine at the beginning of the fourth century and was declared the dominant State religion by Theodosius the Great at the end of that same century. It might have seemed at first that these two clashing elements, representing two diametrically opposed points of view, would never find a basis for mutual agreement. But Christianity and pagan Hellenism did intermix gradually to form a Christian-Greco-Eastern culture subsequently known as Byzantine. Its center was the new capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople.
The person who was chiefly responsible for the many changes in the empire was Constantine the Great. During his reign Christianity stepped for the first time on the firm ground of official recognition. From this time forward the old pagan empire gradually changed into a Christian empire.
The conversion of nations or states to Christianity has usually taken place during the early stage of their historical existence when the past has created no firmly established traditions, but merely some crude and primitive customs and forms of government. In such cases the conversion has caused no great crisis in the life of the people. But this was not characteristic of the Roman Empire in the fourth century. It already possessed an old world culture and had developed forms of government perfect for that time. It had a great past and an extensive body of ideas which had been assimilated by the population. This empire, changing in the fourth century into a Christian state, entered upon an era during which its past was contradicted, at times completely denied; this was bound to lead to an extremely acute and difficult crisis. Apparently the old pagan world, at least in the domain of religion, no longer satisfied national wants. New needs and new desires appeared, which only Christianity could satisfy.
When a moment of unusual importance is associated with some historical personage who happens to play a leading part in it, a whole literature about him is created which aims to evaluate his significance for the given period and attempts to penetrate into the innermost regions of his spiritual life. For the fourth century this important personage was Constantine the Great.
Constantine was born at the city of Naissus (Nish at present). On the side of his father, Constantius Chlorus, Constantine belonged probably to an Illyrian family. His mother, Helena, was a Christian who later became St. Helena. She made a pilgrimage to Palestine where, according to tradition, she found the true cross on which Christ was crucified. In 305, after Diocletian and Maximian had renounced their imperial rank according to the established agreement and had retired into private life, Galerius became the Augustus in the East, and Constantius, father of Constantine, assumed the title of Augustus in the West. In the following year Constantius died in Britain, and his legions proclaimed his son Constantine Augustus. At this time a revolt broke out in Rome. The mutinous population and the army rejected Galerius and proclaimed as emperor Maxentius, the son of the Maximian who had resigned his imperial power. The aged Maximian joined his son and again assumed the imperial title. A period of civil war followed, during which both Maximian and Galerius died. Constantine then formed an alliance with one of the new Augusti, Licinius, and defeated Maxentius in a decisive battle near Rome in 312. Maxentius was drowned in the Tiber while trying to flee from the enemy (at Saxa Rubra near the Milvian bridge across the Tiber). The two victorious emperors, Constantine and Licinius, met at Milan where, according to historical tradition, they proclaimed the famous Edict of Milan. The peaceful relations between the two emperors did not last very long, however. A struggle soon broke out between them, which ended in a complete victory for Constantine. Licinius was killed in 324 AD, and Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire.
The two main events of Constantine’s reign which were of paramount significance for the subsequent course of history were the official recognition of Christianity and the transfer of the capital from the shores of the Tiber to the shores of the Bosphorus, from ancient Rome to Constantinople, the “New Rome.” In studying the position of Christianity in Constantine’s time scholars have considered two problems in particular: the “conversion” of Constantine and the Edict of Milan.[1a]
The conversion of Constantine
Historians and theologians have been primarily interested in the causes of Constantine’s “conversion.” Why did Constantine favor Christianity? Should his attitude be viewed only as an indication of his political wisdom? Did he see in Christianity merely a means of gaining his political aims? Or did he adopt Christianity because of his own inner conviction? Or, finally, was this “conversion” influenced by both political motives and a spiritual leaning toward Christianity?
The main difficulty in solving this problem lies in the contradictory information found in the sources. Constantine as depicted by the Christian bishop Eusebius does not in the least resemble Constantine created by the pen of the pagan writer Zosimus. Historians have found ample opportunity for answering this entangled question according to their own preconceived opinions. The French historian Boissier wrote in his Fall of Paganism:
Unfortunately, when we deal with great people who play a leading part in history and try to study their lives and account for their actions, we are seldom satisfied with the most natural explanations. Since these men have the reputation of unusual people, we never want to believe that they acted just like other ordinary people. We search for hidden reasons behind their simplest actions; we attribute to them subtle considerations, depth of thought and perfidies of which they never dreamed. All this is true in the case of Constantine. A preconceived conviction became current, that this skilful politician wanted to fool us; the more fervently he devoted himself to religious affairs and declared himself a true believer, the more definite were our attempts to prove that he was indifferent to these matters, that he was a skeptic, who in reality was not concerned about any religion and preferred that religion which could benefit him most.
For a long time historical opinion was influenced greatly by the skeptical judgment of the well-known German historian, Jacob Burckhardt, expressed in his brilliant work, The Time of Constantine the Great. He represents Constantine as a statesman of genius, seized by high ambitions and a strong desire for power, a man who sacrificed everything to the fulfillment of his worldly aims. “Attempts are often made,” wrote Burckhardt, “to penetrate into the religious conscience of Constantine and then draw a picture of the changes which presumably took place in his religious beliefs. All this is done in vain. For in the case of this man of genius, whose ambitions and thirst for power troubled every hour of his life, there could be no question of Christianity and paganism, of a conscious religiousness or non-religiousness; such a man is essentially irreligious [unreligiös] … If he had stopped even for a moment to consider his real religious consciousness it would have been fatal.” This “deadly egotist,” having recognized that Christianity was bound to become a world force, made use of it precisely from that point of view. In this recognition, according to Burckhardt, lies Constantine’s great merit. Yet Constantine gave very definite privileges to paganism as well as to Christianity. To look for any system in the actions of this inconsistent man would be all in vain; there was only chance. Constantine, “an egotist in a purple mantle, does and permits all that will increase his personal power.” Burckhardt used as his main source Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, disregarding the fact that this work is not authentic. The judgment of Burckhardt, given briefly here, makes no allowance for any genuine religious feeling on the part of the Emperor.
Basing his arguments on different grounds, the German theologian Adolph Harnack, in The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, arrived at similar conclusions. After a study of the status of Christianity in individual provinces of the empire he admitted the impossibility of determining the exact number of Christians and concluded that though toward the fourth century they were numerous and influential in the empire, they did not constitute the majority of the population. But he remarked further:
Numerical strength and real influence need not coincide in every case; a small circle may exercise very powerful influence if its members are largely drawn from the leading classes, whilst: a large number may represent quite an inferior amount of influence if it is recruited from the lower classes, or in the main from country districts. Christianity was a religion of towns and cities; the larger the town or city, the larger (even relatively) was the number of Christians. This lent it an extraordinary advantage. But alongside of this, Christianity had already penetrated deep into the country districts, throughout a large number of provinces; as we know definitely with regard to the majority of provinces in Asia Minor, and no less so as regards Armenia, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and Northern Africa (with its country towns).
Dividing all the provinces of the empire into four categories according to the wider or narrower spread of Christianity, Harnack analyzed the position of Christianity in each category and concluded that the headquarters of the Christian church at the opening of the fourth century lay in Asia Minor. It is well known that for a number of years previous to his famous “flight” to Gaul, Constantine stayed at the court of Diocletian in Nicomedia. His impressions of Asia became apparent in Gaul, in the form of political considerations which led him to make his decisive resolve; he could benefit by the support of the firm and powerful Church and episcopate. It is idle to ask whether the Church would have gained her victory even apart from Constantine. Some Constantine or other would have come upon the scene. In any event, the victory of Christianity all over Asia Minor was achieved before Constantine came on the scene at all, and it was assured in other provinces. It required no special illumination and no celestial army chaplain to bring about what was already in existence. All that was needed was an acute and forceful statesman who had a vital interest in the religious situation. Such a man was Constantine. He was gifted, inasmuch as he clearly recognized and firmly grasped what was inevitable.
It is quite apparent that Harnack viewed Constantine as a gifted statesman only. Naturally, even an approximate statistical estimate of the number of Christians at that period is out of the question. It is admitted by many of the best modern scholars, however, that paganism was still the dominant element in the state and society, while the Christians were decidedly in the minority. According to the calculations of Professor V. Bolotov, which coincided with the estimates of several other scholars, “it is probable that toward the time of Constantine the Christians constituted one-tenth of the entire population; perhaps even this figure needs to be reduced. Any claim that the number of Christians exceeded one-tenth is precarious.” At present there seems to be uniform agreement that the Christians were in the minority during the time of Constantine. If that is true, then the purely political theory in regard to Constantine’s attitude toward Christianity must be dropped. A great statesman would not have allowed his wide political schemes to depend upon one-tenth of the population which at that time was taking no part in political affairs.
Duruy, the author of The History of Rome and of the Roman People, wrote somewhat under the influence of Burckhardt in evaluating Constantine’s activities; he referred to “honest and calm deism, which, was shaping Constantine’s religion.” According to Duruy, Constantine “very early became aware of the fact that Christianity in its fundamental dogmas corresponds with his own belief in one God." But in spite of this, Duruy continued, political considerations were of primary importance to Constantine:
As Bonaparte sought to conciliate the Church and the Revolution, so Constantine proposed to have the old and the new religions live peaceably side by side, at the same time favoring the latter. He understood which way the world was moving, and aided its movement without precipitating it. It is to the honor of this Emperor that he made good his claim to the tide assumed by him on his triumphal arch, quietis custos (custodian of peace) … We have sought to penetrate the deepest recesses of Constantine’s mind, and have found there a policy of government rather than a religious conviction.
Duruy remarked elsewhere, however, that “the Constantine pictured by Eusebius often saw between earth and heaven things which no one else ever noticed.”
Two of the large number of publications which appeared in 1913 in connection with the celebration of the sixteenth centennial of the so-called Edict of Milan were: Kaiser Constantin und die christliche Kirche, written by E. Schwartz, and Collected Papers (Gesammelte Studien), edited by F. Dölger. Schwartz stated that Constantine, “with the diabolical perspicacity of a world-master, realized the importance which the alliance with the church had for the universal monarchy which he was planning to build, and he had the courage and energy to accomplish this union against all traditions of Caesarism.” E. Krebs, in the Papers edited by Dölger, wrote that all the steps taken by Constantine toward Christianity were but secondary causes of the acceleration of the victory of the church; the main cause lay in the supernatural power of Christianity itself.
Opinions of various scholars on this subject differ widely. P. Batiffol defended the sincerity of Constantine’s conversion, and more recently J. Maurice, a well-known scholar in the field of numismatics of Constantine’s time, attempted to substantiate the miraculous element in his conversion. Boissier noted that for Constantine the statesman to deliver himself into the hands of the Christians, who constituted a minority and were of no political importance, would have meant a risky experiment; therefore, since he did not change his faith for political reasons, it must be admitted he did it through conviction. F. Lot was inclined to accept the sincerity of Constantine’s conversion. E. Stein maintained a political reason. The greatest significance of Constantine’s religious policy, he said, is the introduction of the Christian Church into the organism of the State, and he presumed that Constantine was influenced to some extent by the example of the Zoroastrian state church in Persia. H. Grégoire wrote that policy always takes precedence over religion, particularly external policy. A. Piganiol said that Constantine was a Christian without knowing it.
However, the “conversion” of Constantine, generally connected with his victory over Maxentius in 312, should not be considered as his real conversion to Christianity; he actually adopted the religion in the year he died. During his entire reign he remained the pontifex maximus; he never called Sunday anything but “the day of the sun” (dies solis); and the “invincible sun” (sol invictus) at that period usually meant the Persian God, Mithras, whose worship was spread throughout the Empire, in the East as well as in the West. At times this cult of the sun was a serious rival to Christianity. It is certain that Constantine was a supporter of the cult of the sun; such devotion was hereditary in his own family. In all probability his sol invictus was Apollo. Maurice observed that this solar religion assured him an immense popularity in the Empire.
Recently some historians made an interesting attempt to represent Constantine as merely the continuator and executor of a policy initiated by others, rather than as the sole champion of Christianity. According to Grégoire, Licinius, before Constantine, originated a policy of tolerance toward Christianity. Schoenebeck, the German historian, questioned Grégoire’s opinion; he considered Maxentius a champion of Christianity in his section of the Empire and the one who provided a model for Constantine to follow.
Granting Constantine’s leanings toward Christianity, his political schemes were nevertheless bound to have a dominating influence upon his attitude toward Christianity, which could be helpful to him in many ways. He understood that in the future Christianity would be the main unifying element among the races of the Empire. “He wanted to strengthen the unity of the Empire through a unity of the Church.”
The conversion of Constantine is usually connected with the famous story of the appearance of a luminous cross in the sky during the struggle between Constantine and Maxentius; an element of miracle is thus introduced as one of the causes of the conversion. However, the sources related to this event arouse much disagreement among historians. The earliest account of a miracle belongs to a Christian contemporary of Constantine, Lactantius, who, in his work On the Death of the Persecutors (De mortibus persecutorum), spoke only of the warning Constantine received in a dream to inscribe on his shields the likeness of the divine sign of Christ (coeleste signum Dei). Lactantius said nothing about the heavenly vision which Constantine was supposed to have seen.
Another contemporary of Constantine, Eusebius of Caesarea, wrote in two of his works about the victory over Maxentius. In his earlier work, The Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius remarked only that Constantine, starting out to save Rome, “invoked in prayer the God of Heaven and his Word, Jesus Christ, the Savior of all.” Apparently nothing was said here about the dream, or about signs on the shields. Another work, The Life of Constantine, was written about twenty-five years after the victory over Maxentius and is usually, though probably wrongly, attributed to Eusebius. This work relates that the emperor himself told and confirmed by oath the famous story of how during his march on Maxentius he saw above the setting sun a luminous cross, with the words “By This Conquer!” (τουτω νικα). He and his legions were awe-struck at this vision. The following night Christ came to Constantine in a dream, bearing the same sign, and bade him make a likeness of the cross and with it march against his enemies. As soon as dawn broke the Emperor communicated to his friends the marvelous dream and then, calling together artificers, he described to them the outlines of the vision he had seen and ordered them to execute the standard, which is known as the labarum. The labarum was a long cross formed like a spear. From the transverse bar hung a silk cloth, embroidered in gold and adorned with precious stones, bearing the images of Constantine and his two sons; at the peak of the cross was a golden wreath surrounding the monogram of Christ. From the time of Constantine the labarum became the banner of the Byzantine Empire. Reference to the divine apparition and to armies marching in heaven, which were sent by God to aid Constantine in his struggle, may be found in the works of other writers. The information on this point is so confusing and contradictory that it cannot be properly evaluated from a historic point of view. Some writers go so far as to say that the miracle took place, not during the march against Maxentius, but before Constantine’s departure from Gaul.
The Edict of Milan.
During the reign of Constantine the Great, Christianity received official permission to exist and develop. The first decree favoring Christianity was issued in 311 by Galerius, who had been one of its most ferocious persecutors.
This decree gave pardon to the Christians for their former stubborn resistance to government orders aimed at turning them back to paganism, and announced their legal right to exist. It declared: “Christians may exist again, and may establish their meetings, yet so that they do nothing contrary to good order. Wherefore, in accordance with this indulgence of ours, they will be bound to pray their God for our good estate, that of the commonwealth, and their own.”
Two years later, after his victory over Maxentius and agreement with Licinius, Constantine met Licinius in Milan, where they issued the very interesting document incorrectly called the Edict of Milan. The original text of this document has not been preserved, but a Latin manuscript of Licinius sent to the prefect of Nkomedia has been preserved by Lactantius. A Greek translation of the Latin original is given by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History.
According to this document the Christians and people of other religions were given full freedom to follow whatever faith they chose. All measures directed against the Christians were declared null and void:
From now on every one of those who have a common wish to observe the Christian worship may freely and unconditionally endeavor to observe the same without any annoyance or disquiet. These things we thought good to signify in the fullest manner to your Carefulness [i.e., the praeses of Bithynia], that you might know that we have given freely and unreservedly to the said Christians authority to practice their worship. And when you perceive that we have made this grant to the said Christians, your Devotion understands that to others also freedom for their own worship and observance is likewise left open and freely granted, as befits the quiet of our times, that every man may have freedom in the practice of whatever worship he has chosen, for it is not our will that aught be diminished from the honor of any worship.
The document also ordered that private buildings and churches previously confiscated from Christians be restored to them freely and unreservedly.
In 1891 the German scholar O. Seeck advanced the theory that no Edict of Milan was ever issued. The only edict which ever appeared, he stated, was the edict of tolerance issued by Galerius in 311. For a long time most historians failed to accept this view. In 1013 the sixteen-hundredth anniversary of the Edict of Milan was solemnly celebrated in many countries and a vast literature on the subject was produced. In reality, however, the edict quoted above, promulgated at Nicomedia by Licinius in 313, was a confirmation of Galerius’ edict of 311, which apparently had not been satisfactorily carried out. The document which was issued at Milan in March, 313 by Constantine and Licinius was not an edict but a letter to the governors of the provinces in Asia Minor and in the East in general, explaining and directing how they should treat the Christians.
The conclusion, on the basis of this edict, is that Constantine and Licinius gave Christianity the same rights enjoyed by other faiths, including paganism. It is premature to speak of the triumph of Christianity in Constantine’s time. To Constantine, Christianity seemed compatible with paganism. The great significance of his act is that he not only allowed Christianity to exist but actually placed it under the protection of the government. This was an extremely significant moment in the history of early Christianity. The Edict of Nicomedia, however, gave no basis for the claim made by some historians that during the reign of Constantine Christianity was placed above all other religions, that the others were only tolerated, and that the “Edict of Milan” proclaimed, not a policy of toleration, but the predominance of Christianity. When the question of the dominance or the equal rights of Christianity is raised, the decision must be in favor of equal rights. Nevertheless, the significance of the Edict of Nicomedia is great. As one historian has said, “In reality, without any unnecessary exaggeration, the importance of the ‘Edict of Milan’ remains unquestionably great, for it was an act which ended the illegal position of the Christians in the empire and declared at the same time complete religious freedom, thus reducing paganism de jure from its former position of the only state religion to the rank of all other religions.”
The attitude of Constantine toward the Church.
Constantine did more than merely grant equal rights to Christianity as a definite religious doctrine. The Christian clergy (clerici) were given all the privileges granted to the pagan priests. They were exempted from state taxation and duties as well as from the officeholding which might divert them from the performance of their religious obligations (the right of immunity). Any man could bequeath his property to the Church, which thereby acquired the right of inheritance. Thus, simultaneously with the declaration of religious freedom, the Christian communities were recognized as legal juridical entities; from a legal point of view, Christianity was placed in an entirely new position.
Very important privileges were given to episcopal courts. Any man had the right, if his opponent agreed, to carry a civil suit to the episcopal court, even after proceedings in that suit had already been started in the civil court. Toward the end of Constantine’s reign the authority of the episcopal courts was enlarged still more: (1) The decision of a bishop had to be accepted as final in cases concerning people of any age; (2) any civil case could be transferred to the episcopal court at any stage of the proceedings, even if the opposing side did not agree; (3) the decisions of the episcopal courts had to be sanctioned by civil judges. All these judicial privileges increased the authority of the bishops in society but at the same time added a heavy burden to their responsibilities and created many complications. The losing side, in view of the illegality of appealing a bishop’s decision, which could not always be correct, often remained dissatisfied and irritated. Moreover, these additional duties introduced too many worldly interests into the lives of the bishops.
The Church at the same time was growing in material wealth through gifts from state resources of landed property or money and grain. Christians could not be forced to participate in pagan festivals. At the same time Christian influence brought about some mitigation in the punishment of criminals.
In addition to all this, Constantine’s name is connected with the erection of many churches in all parts of his immense empire. The basilica of St. Peter and the basilica of the Lateran in Rome are ascribed to him. He was particularly interested in Palestine, where his mother, Helena, supposedly found the true cross. In Jerusalem, in the place where Christ was buried, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was erected; on the Mount of Olives Constantine built the Church of the Ascension and at Bethlehem the Church of the Nativity. The new capital, Constantinople, and its suburbs were also adorned with many churches, the most prominent the Church of the Apostles and the Church of St. Irene; it is possible that Constantine laid the foundations of St. Sophia, which was completed by his successor, Constantius. Many churches were being constructed in other places during Constantine’s reign, at Antioch, Nicomedia, and North Africa.
After the reign of Constantine three important Christian centers developed: the early Christian Rome, in Italy, although pagan sympathy and tradition continued to exist there for some time; Christian Constantinople, which very soon became a second Rome in the eyes of the Christians of the East; and, finally, Christian Jerusalem. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Emperor Titus in 70 A.D., and the formation in its place of the Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in the second century A.D, old Jerusalem had lost its significance, although it was the mother church of Christendom and the center of the first apostolic preaching. Christian Jerusalem was called to new life in the period of Constantine. Politically, Caesarea, and not Aelia, was the capital of that province. The churches built during this period in the three centers stood as symbols of the triumph of the Christian church on earth. This church soon became the state church. The new idea of the kingdom on earth was in direct contrast with the original conception of Christianity as a kingdom “not of this world,” and of the rapidly approaching end of the world.
Arianism and the Council of Nicaea
Because of the new conditions created in the early part of the fourth century, the Christian church experienced a period of intense activity which manifested itself particularly in the field of dogma. In the fourth century problems of dogma preoccupied not only individual men, as was the case in the third century with Tertullian or Origen, but also entire parties, consisting of large, well-organized groups of individuals.
In the fourth century councils became a common occurrence and they were considered the only effective means for settling debatable problems. But in this movement a new element is present in the relations between church and state, highly significant for the subsequent history of relations between the spiritual and the temporal powers. Beginning with Constantine the Great, the state took part in the religious disputes and directed them as it saw fit. In many cases, obviously, the interests of the state did not coincide with those of the church.
For many centuries the cultural center of the East was the Egyptian city Alexandria, where intellectual activity rushed forth in a powerful stream. Quite naturally, the new dogmatical movements originated in Alexandria which, according to Professor A. Spassky, “became the center of theological development in the East and attained in the Christian world the particular fame of a philosophical church which never tired of studying higher problems of religion and science.” Although it was an Alexandrian presbyter, Arius, who gave his name to the most significant “heretical” teaching of Constantine’s period, the doctrine had originated in the second half of the third century in Antioch, Syria, where Lucian, one of the most learned men of the time, had founded an exegetical-theological school. This school, as A. Harnack said, “is the nursery of the Arian doctrine, and Lucian, its head, is the Arius before Arius.”
Arius advanced the idea that the Son of God was a created being. This idea formed the basis of the Arian heresy. Beyond the boundaries of Egypt, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, and Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, sided with Arius. Feeling ran high. Arius, in spite of the efforts of his adherents, was refused communion by Alexander, bishop of Alexandria. Local efforts to pacify the disturbances in the church did not succeed.
Constantine, who had just defeated Licinius and had become sole Emperor, arrived in 324 at Nicomedia, where he received numerous complaints from both the opponents and the adherents of Arius. Desiring above alt to maintain religious peace in the Empire and not realizing the full significance of the dogmatic dispute, the Emperor sent a letter to Bishop Alexander and Arius, urging them to come to an agreement. He pointed out as an example the philosophers, who had their disputes yet lived in peace. He also indicated in his letter that it should not be difficult for them to come to an agreement, since both of them believed in Divine Providence and Jesus Christ. “Restore me then my quiet days, and untroubled nights, that the joy of undimmed light, the delight of a tranquil life, may henceforth be my portion,” Constantine wrote in his letter.
This letter was delivered to Alexandria by Bishop Hosius (Osius) of Cordova (Spain), whom Constantine held in great esteem. He delivered the letter, investigated the matter thoroughly, and explained to the Emperor on his return the full significance of the Arian movement. It was only then that Constantine decided to call a council.
The First Ecumenical Council was called together by imperial edicts in the Bithynian city, Nicaea. The exact number of people who came to this council is not known; the number of Nicaean Fathers is often estimated at 318. Most of them were eastern bishops. The aged bishop of Rome sent in his place two presbyters. Among the matters taken up by the council the most important was the Arian dispute. The Emperor presided at the council and sometimes even led the discussions.
The acts of the Council of Nicaea have not been preserved. Some doubt that any written records of the proceedings were kept at all. Information about the council comes from the writings of those who participated in it as well as from the accounts of historians. The most enthusiastic and skillful opponent of Arius was the archdeacon of the Alexandrian church, Athanasius. After heated discussions the council condemned the heresy of Arius, and after introducing some corrections and additions, it adopted the Creed in which, contrary to the teachings of Arius, Jesus Christ was recognized as the Son of God, unbegotten, and consubstantial (of one essence) with His Father. The Nicene Creed was signed by many of the Arian bishops. The more persistent of them, including Arius himself, were subjected to exile and confinement. One of the best authorities on Arianism wrote: “Arianism had started with a vigour promising a great career, and in a few years seemed no unequal claimant for the supremacy of the East. But its strength collapsed the moment the council met, withered by the universal reprobation of the Christian world … Arianism seemed hopelessly crushed when the council closed.” The solemn proclamation of the council announced to all communities the new state of harmony and peace within the church. Constantine wrote: “The devil will no longer have any power against us, since all that which he had malignantly devised for our destruction has been entirely overthrown from the foundations. The Splendor of Truth has dissipated at the command of God those dissensions, schisms, tumults, and so to speak, deadly poisons of discord.”
Reality did not fulfill Constantine’s hopes. The Council of Nicaea, by its condemnation of Arianism, not only failed to put an end to Arian disputes, but caused many new similar movements and complications. In the attitude of Constantine himself there came to be a marked change in favor of the Arians. A few years after the council, Arius and his most fervent followers were recalled from exile. But Arius’ restoration was prevented by his sudden death. Their place in exile was taken by the leaders who supported the Nicene Creed. And while the Nicene creed was never officially repealed and condemned, it was purposely forgotten and partly replaced by other formulas.
It is very difficult to explain the origin of the strong opposition to the Nicene Council and the cause of the change in Constantine’s attitude. Perhaps among the many varied explanations, such as court influences, intimate family relations, and the like, attention should be called to this view: When Constantine first attempted to solve the Arian problem he was not acquainted with the religious situation in the East, where the prevailing sentiment was in favor of Arianism; the Emperor was educated in the West and influenced by his western leaders, such as Hosius, bishop of Cordova, and so he decided in favor of the Nicene Creed. This was in harmony with his views at the time but was not suitable to conditions in the East. When later Constantine realized that the Nicene decisions were contrary to the spirit of the church majority and conflicted with the desires of the masses in the East he assumed a more favorable attitude toward Arianism. During the last years of Constantine’s reign Arianism penetrated even to the court and became every year more firmly established in the eastern part of the Empire. Many of the partisans of the Nicene Creed were deprived of their sees and sent into exile. The history of Arian predominance during that period is still not sufficiently clear because of the unsatisfactory condition of the sources.
Constantine remained a pagan until the last year of his life. Only on his death bed was he baptized by Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, an Arian; but A. Spassky remarked that he died while directing that Athanasius, the famous opponent of Arius, be recalled. Constantine made his sons Christian.
The foundation of Constantinople.
The second event of primary importance during Constantine’s reign, next to the recognition of Christianity, was the foundation of a new capital on the European shore of the Bosphorus, at its entrance to the Propontis (Sea of Marmora), on the site of the former Megarian colony, Byzantium (Βυζαντιον).
Long before Constantine the ancients had been fully aware of the strategic and commercial advantages of Byzantium, situated as it was on the border of Asia and Europe, commanding the entrance to two seas, the Black and the Mediterranean. It was also close to the main sources of the glorious ancient cultures. Judging by the sources, in the first half of the seventh century B.C. the Megarians had founded a colony named Chalcedon, on the Asiatic shore of the southern end of the Bosphorus, opposite the site where Constantinople was built in later years. A few years after the founding of this colony another party of Megarians established a colony on the European shore of the south end of the Bosphorus, Byzantium, named for the chief of the Megarian expedition, Byzas (Βυζας). The advantages of Byzantium over Chalcedon were well understood by the ancients. The Greek historian of the fifth century, B.C., Herodotus (iv, 144) wrote that the Persian general, Megabazus, upon arriving at Byzantium, called the inhabitants of Chalcedon blind people, because, having a choice of sites for their city, they had chosen the worse of the two, disregarding the better site, where Byzantium was founded within a few years. Later literary tradition, including Strabo (vii, 6, c. 320) and the Roman historian, Tacitus (Ann. xii, 63), ascribes this statement of Megabazus, in a slightly modified form, to the Pythian Apollo who, in answer to the Megarian’s question as to where they should build the city, answered that they should settle opposite the land of the blind. Byzantium played an important part during the epoch of the Greco-Persian Wars and the time of Philip of Macedon. The Greek historian of the second century B.C., Polybius, analyzed thoroughly the political and economic position of Byzantium. Recognizing the importance of trade relations between Greece and the cities along the Black Sea, he wrote that without the consent of the inhabitants of Byzantium not a single commercial vessel could enter or leave the Black Sea and that the Byzantians thus controlled all the indispensable products of the Pontus.
After Rome ceased to be a republic the emperors more than once wanted to transfer the capital from republican-minded Rome to the East. According to the Roman historian, Suetonius (I, 79), Julius Caesar intended to move from Rome to Alexandria or to Ilion (former Troy). In the first centuries of the Christian era the emperors often deserted Rome for long periods during their extensive military campaigns and journeys through the empire. At the end of the second century Byzantium received a heavy blow: Septimius Severus, upon defeating his rival, Pescennius Niger, who was supported by Byzantium, submitted the city to a terrible sack and almost complete destruction. Meanwhile the East continued to attract the emperors. Diocletian (284-305) preferred to live in Asia Minor in the Bithynian city, Nicomedia, which he beautified with many magnificent new edifices.
When Constantine decided to create a new capital, he did not choose Byzantium at once. For a while, at least, he considered Naissus (Nish) where he was born, Sardica (Sofia), and Thessalonica. His attention turned particularly to Troy, the city of Aeneas, who according to tradition, had come to Latium in Italy and laid the foundations for the Roman state. The Emperor set out personally to the famous place, where he himself defined the limits of the future city. The gates had already been constructed when, as Sozomen, the Christian writer of the fifth century, related, one night God visited Constantine in a dream and induced him to look for a different site for his capital. After this Constantine’s choice fell definitely upon Byzantium. Even a century later travelers sailing near the shores of Troy could see the unfinished structures begun by Constantine.
Byzantium, which had not yet fully recovered from the severe destruction caused by Septimius Severus, was at that time a mere village and occupied only part of the cape extending to the Sea of Marmora. In 324 A.D. Constantine decided upon the foundation of the new capital and in 325 the construction of the main buildings was begun. Christian legend tells that the Emperor, with spear in his hand, was outlining the boundaries of the city when his courtiers, astonished by the wide dimensions planned for the capital, asked him, “How long, our Lord, will you keep going?” He answered, “I shall keep on until he who walks ahead of me will stop.” This was meant to indicate that some divine power was leading him. Laborers and materials for the construction work were gathered from everywhere. Pagan monuments of Rome, Athens, Alexandria, Ephesus, and Antioch were used in beautifying the new capital. Forty thousand Goth soldiers, the so-called “foederati,” participated in the construction of the new buildings. Many commercial and financial privileges were proclaimed for the new capital in order to attract a larger population. Toward the spring of 330 A.D. the work had progressed to such an extent that Constantine found it possible to dedicate the new capital officially. The dedication took place on May 11, 330 and was followed by celebrations and festivities which lasted for forty days. In this year Christian Constantinople was superimposed upon pagan Byzantium.
Although it is difficult to estimate the size of the city in the time of Constantine, it is certain that it exceeded by far the extent of the former Byzantium. There are no precise figures for the population of Constantinople in the fourth century; a mere assumption is that it might have been more than 200,000. For protection against the enemy from the land, Constantine built a wall extending from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmora.
In later years ancient Byzantium became the capital of a world empire and it was called the “City of Constantine” or Constantinople. The capital adopted the municipal system of Rome and was subdivided into fourteen districts or regions, two of which were outside the city walls. Of the monuments of Constantine’s time almost none have survived to the present day. However, the Church of St. Irene, which was rebuilt twice during the time of Justinian the Great and Leo III, dates back to Constantine’s time and is still preserved. The famous small serpent column from Delphi (fifth century B.C), erected in commemoration of the battle of Plataea, transferred by Constantine to the new capital, and placed by him in the Hippodrome, is still there today, although it is somewhat damaged.
Constantine, with the insight of genius, appraised all the advantages of the position of the city, political as well as economic and cultural. Politically, Constantinople, or, as it was often called, the “New Rome,” had exceptional advantages for resisting external enemies. It was inaccessible from the sea; on land it was protected by walls. Economically, Constantinople controlled the entire trade of the Black Sea with the Aegean and the Mediterranean seas and was thus destined to become the commercial intermediary between Europe and Asia. Finally, in the matter of culture, Constantinople had the great advantage of being situated close to the most important centers of Hellenistic culture, which under Christian influence resulted in a new Christian-Greco-Roman, or “Byzantine,” culture. Th. I. Uspensky wrote:
The choice of a site for the new capital, the construction of Constantinople, and the creation of a universal historical city is one of the indefeasible achievements of the political and administrative genius of Constantine. Not in the edict of religious toleration lies Constantine’s great service to the world: if not he, then his immediate successors would have been forced to grant to Christianity its victorious position, and the delay would have done no harm to Christianity. But by his timely transfer of the world-capital to Constantinople he saved the ancient culture and created a favorable setting for the spread of Christianity.
Following the period of Constantine the Great, Constantinople became the political, religious, economic, and cultural center of the Empire.
Reforms of Diocletian and Constantine.
The reforms of Constantine and Diocletian were characterized by establishment of a strict centralization of power, introduction of a vast bureaucracy, and definite separation of civil and military power. These reforms were not new and unexpected. The Roman Empire began its trend toward centralization of power as early as the time of Augustus. Parallel with Roman absorption of the new regions of the Hellenistic East, which developed through long centuries higher culture and older forms of government, especially in the provinces of Ptolemaic Egypt, there was a gradual borrowing from the living customs and Hellenistic ideals of these newly acquired lands. The distinguishing characteristic of the states built on the ruins of the empire of Alexander the Great of Macedon, Pergamon of the Attalids, Syria of the Seleucids, and Egypt of the Ptolemies, was the unlimited, deified power of the monarchs, manifested in particularly firm and definite forms in Egypt. To the Egyptian population Augustus, the conqueror of this territory, and his successors continued to be the same unlimited deified monarchs as the Ptolemies had been before them. This was quite the opposite of the Roman conception of the power of the first princeps, which was an attempt to effect a compromise between the republican institutions of Rome and the newly developing forms of governmental power. The political influences of the Hellenistic east, however, gradually changed the original extent of the power of the Roman principes, who very soon showed their preference for the East and its conceptions of imperial power. Suetonius said of the emperor of the first century, Caligula, that he was ready to accept the imperial crown—the diadem; according to the sources, the emperor of the first half of the third century, Elagabalus, already wore the diadem in private; and it is well known that the emperor of the second half of the third century, Aurelian, was the first one to wear the diadem publicly, while the inscriptions and coins call him “God” and “Lord” (Deus Aurelianus, Imperator Deus et Dominus Aurelianus Augustus). It was Aurelian who established the autocratic form of government in the Roman Empire.
The process of development of the imperial power, primarily on the basis of Ptolemaic Egypt and later under the influence of Sassanid Persia, was almost completed by the fourth century. Diocletian and Constantine desired to effect the definite organization of the monarchy and for this purpose they simply replaced the Roman institutions with the customs and practices which predominated in the Hellenistic East and were already known in Rome, especially after the time of Aurelian.
The times of trouble and military anarchy of the third century greatly disturbed and disintegrated the internal organization of the empire. For a while Aurelian re-established its unity and for this achievement contemporary documents and inscriptions bestow upon him the name of the “restorer of the Empire” (Restitutor Orbis). But after his death a period of unrest followed, It was then that Diocletian set himself the goal of directing the entire state organism along a normal and orderly path. As a matter of fact, however, he simply accomplished a great administrative reform. Nevertheless, both Diocletian and Constantine introduced administrative changes of such extreme importance to the internal organization of the Empire that they may be considered to be the true founders of a new type of monarchy created under the strong influence of the East.
Diocletian, who spent much of his time in Nicomedia and was on the whole favorably inclined toward the East, adopted many characteristics of the eastern monarchies. He was a true autocrat, an emperor-god who wore the imperial diadem. Oriental luxury and the complex ceremonial were introduced at his court. His subjects, when granted an audience, had to fall on their knees before they dared to lift their eyes to view their sovereign. Everything concerning the Emperor was considered sacred—his words, his court, his treasury; he himself was a sacred person. His court, which Constantine later transferred to Constantinople, absorbed large sums of money and became the center of numerous plots and intrigues which caused very serious complications in the later periods of Byzantine life. Thus autocracy in a form closely related to Oriental despotism was definitely established by Diocletian and became one of the distinguishing marks of government structure in the Byzantine Empire.
In order to systematize the administration of the vast Empire, which included many races, Diocletian introduced the system of tetrarchy, “of the power of four persons.” The administrative power was divided between two Augusti, who had equal plenipotence. One of them was to live in the eastern, and the other in the western, part of the Empire; but both had to work in the interests of one Roman state. The Empire remained undivided; the appointment of two Augusti, however, indicated that the government recognized even in those days that a difference existed between the Greek East and the Latin West, and that the administration of both could not be entrusted to the same person. Each Augustus was to be assisted by a Caesar, who, in case of the death or retirement of the Augustus, became the Augustus and selected a new Caesar. This created a sort of artificial dynastic system which was supposed to do away with the conflicts and conspiracies originating in the ambitions of various competitors. This system was also meant to deprive the legions of their decisive influence at the time of the election of a new emperor. The first two Augusti were Diocletian and Maximian, and their Caesars were Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine the Great. Diocletian retained his Asiatic provinces and Egypt, with headquarters at Nicomedia; Maximian kept Italy, Africa, and Spain, with headquarters at Mediolanum (Milan); Galerius kept the Balkan peninsula and the adjoining Danubian provinces, with a center at Sirmium on the River Save (near present Mitrovitz); and Constantius Chlorus kept Gaul and Britain, with centers at Augusta Trevirorum (Trier, Treves) and Eburacum (York). All four rulers were considered as rulers of a single empire, and all government decrees were issued in the name of all four. Although theoretically the two Augusti were equal in their power, Diocletian, as an emperor, had a decided advantage. The Caesars were subjects of the Augusti. After a certain period of time the Augusti had to lay down their titles and transfer them to the Caesars. In fact Diocletian and Maximian did lay down their titles in 305 and retired to private life. Galerius and Constantius Chlorus became the Augusti. But the troubles which followed put an end to the artificial system of tetrarchy, which had already ceased to exist at the beginning of the fourth century.
Great changes in the provincial government were introduced by Diocletian. During his reign the distinction between senatorial and imperial provinces disappeared; all provinces were dependent directly upon the emperor. Formerly, the provinces being comparatively few and territorially very large, their governors had enormous power in their hands. This condition had created many dangerous situations for the central government; revolts were frequent and the governors of these large provinces, supported by their legions, were often serious pretenders to the imperial throne. Diocletian, wishing to do away with the political menace of the large provinces, decided to divide them into smaller units. The fifty-seven provinces in existence at the time of his ascension were divided into ninety-six new ones, perhaps more. Moreover, these provinces were placed under governors whose powers were purely civil. The exact number of smaller provinces created by Diocletian is not known because of the unsatisfactory information given by the sources. The main source on the provincial structure of the Empire at this time is the so-called Notitia dignitatum, an official list of court, civil, and military offices, which contains also a list of provinces. According to scholarly investigations, this undated document refers to the first half of the fifth century and hence includes the changes in provincial government introduced by the successors of Diocletian. The Notitia dignitatum numbers 120 provinces. Other lists, also of doubtful but earlier dates, give a smaller number of provinces. Under Diocletian also a certain number of small new neighboring provinces were grouped together in a unit called a diocese under the control of an official whose powers were likewise purely civil. There were thirteen dioceses. In their extent the dioceses resembled the old provinces. Finally, in the course of the fourth century the dioceses in turn were grouped into four (at times three) vast units (prefectures) under praetorian prefects, the most important officials of that time. Since Constantine had shorn them of their military functions, they stood at the head of the whole civil administration and controlled both the diocesan and the provincial governors. Toward the end of the fourth century the Empire, for purposes of civil government, was divided into four great sections (prefectures): (1) Gaul, including Britain, Gaul, Spain, and the northwestern corner of Africa; (2) Italy, including Africa, Italy, the provinces between the Alps and the Danube, and the northwestern portion of the Balkan peninsula; (3) Illyricum, the smallest of the prefectures, which embraced the provinces of Dacia, Macedonia, and Greece; and (4) the East, comprising the Asiatic territory, as well as Thrace in Europe in the north and Egypt in the south.
Many details of Diocletian’s reforms are not yet available because of the lack of adequate sources on the subject. It should be stressed, however, that in order to secure his power still more against possible provincial complications, Diocletian strictly separated military authority from civil authority; from his time onward the provincial governors had only judicial and administrative functions. The provincial reforms of Diocletian affected Italy in particular; from the leading district she was transformed into a mere province. The administrative reforms resulted in the creation of a large number of new officials and a complex bureaucratic system with strict subjection of the lower officials to the higher. Constantine the Great further developed and enlarged in some respects the reorganization of the Empire begun by Diocletian.
Thus the chief features of Diocletian’s and Constantine’s reforms were the definite establishment of absolute monarchical power and a strict separation of military and civil functions, which led to the creation of a large and complex bureaucracy. During the Byzantine period the first feature was preserved; the second experienced a great change because of a constant tendency to concentrate military and civil authority in the same hands. The numerous offices and titles were retained in the Byzantine Empire. This bureaucratic system survived to the last years of the Empire, but many changes took place in the nature of the functions and the names of the dignitaries. Most of the titles were changed from Latin to Greek; many offices degenerated into mere titles or ranks; and a number of new offices and dignities were created during subsequent periods.
A very important factor in the history of the Empire in the fourth century was the gradual immigration of the barbarians, that is, the Germans (Goths). A detailed examination of this question appears after the discussion of general conditions in the fourth century.
Constantine the Great died in 337 A.D. He has met with rare and deep appreciation from many different points of view. The Roman senate, according to the historian of the fourth century, Eutropius, enrolled Constantine among the gods; history has named him “the Great;” and the church has proclaimed him a saint and equal of the Apostles (Isoapostolic). Modern historians have likened him to Peter of Russia and Napoleon.
Eusebius of Caesarea wrote his “Panegyric of Constantine” to glorify the triumph of Christianity in putting an end to the creations of Satan, the false gods, and destroying the pagan states:
One God was proclaimed to all mankind. At the same time one universal power, the Roman Empire, arose and flourished. At the selfsame period, by the express appointment of the same God, two roots of blessing, the Roman Empire and the doctrine of Christian piety, sprang up together for the benefit or men … Two mighty powers starting from the same point, the Roman Empire swayed by a single sovereign and the Christian religion, subdued and reconciled all these contending elements.
From Constantine to the Early Sixth Century
After the death of Constantine his three sons, Constantine, Constantius, and Constans, all assumed the title of Augustus and divided among themselves the rule of the Empire. A struggle soon broke out among the three rulers, during which two of the brothers were killed, Constantine in the year 340 and Constans ten years later. Constantius thus became the sole master of the Empire and ruled until the year 361. He was childless, and after the death of his brothers he was greatly troubled by the question of a successor to the throne. His policy of extinguishing all the members of his family spared only two cousins, Gallus and Julian, whom he kept away from the capital
Anxious, however, to secure the throne for his dynasty, he made Gallus Caesar. But the latter incurred the Emperor’s suspicions and was assassinated in the year 354.
Such was the state of affairs when the brother of Gallus, Julian, was called to the court of Constantius, where he was appointed to the position of Caesar (355) married Helena, a sister of Constantius. The short reign (361-63) of Julian, whose death ended the dynasty of Constaniine the Great, was followed by the equally short rule of his successor, the former commander of the court guards, Jovian (363-64), who was elected Augustus by the army. After his death the new choice fell on Valentinian (364-75) who, immediately after his own election, was forced by the demands of his soldiers to appoint his brother, Valens, as Augustus and co-ruler (364-78). Valentinian ruied the western part of the Empire and entrusted the eastern half to Valens. Valentinian was succeeded in the west by his son Gratian (375-83), while at the same time the army proclaimed as Augustus Valentinian II (375-92), the four-year-old stepbrother of Gratian. Following the death of Valens (378), Gratian appointed Theodosius to the high position of Augustus and commissioned him to rule over the eastern half of the Empire and a large part of Illyricum. Theodosius, originally from the far West (Spain), was the first emperor of the dynasty which occupied the throne until the death of Theodosius the Younger in 450 A.D.
After the death of Theodosius his sons Arcadius and Honorius divided the rule of the Empire; Arcadius ruled in the east and Honorius in the west. As in previous instances in the fourth century under the joint rule of Valens and Valentinian I, or of Theodosius, Gratian, and Valentinian II, when the division of power did not destroy the unity of the Empire, so under Arcadius and Honorius that unity was maintained: there were two rulers of one state. Contemporaries viewed the situation precisely in this light. The historian of the fifth century, Orosius, the author of the History Against the Pagans, wrote: “Arcadius and Honorius began to keep the common empire, having only divided their seats.”
Among the emperors who reigned in the eastern part of the Empire during the period 395-518, the first were from the lineage of Theodosius the Great: his son Arcadius (395-408), who married Eudoxia, the daughter of a German (Frankish) chief; and the son of Arcadius, Theodosius the Younger (408-50), whose wife Athenais was the daughter of an Athenian philosopher and was named Eudocia when she was baptized. After the death of Theodosius II his sister Pulcheria married Marcian of Thrace, who became emperor (450-57). Thus in 450 A.D. ended the male line of the Spanish dynasty of Theodosius. Following Marcian’s death Leo I (457-74), born in Thrace or “Dacia in Illyricum,” i.e. in the prefecture of Illyricum, a military tribune, was chosen emperor. Ariadne, the daughter of Leo I, who was married to the Isaurian Zeno, had a son Leo, who, after the death of his grandfather, became emperor (474) at the age of six. He died a few months later, after he had succeeded in appointing as co-emperor his father, Zeno, of the wild tribe of Isaurians, dwellers of the Taurus Mountains in Asia Minor. This Leo is known in history as Leo II the Younger. His father, Zeno, reigned from 474 to 491. When Zeno died his wife, Ariadne, married a silentiary, the aged Anastasius, originally from Dyrrachium (Durazzo) in Illyria (present-day Albania). He was proclaimed emperor in 491 and ruled as Anastasius I until 518.
This list of emperors indicates that from the death of Constantine the Great until 518 A.D. the throne at Constantinople was occupied first by the Dardanian dynasty of Constantine, or rather the dynasty of his father, who probably belonged to some Romanized barbarian tribe of the Balkan peninsula; then by a number of Romans—Jovian and the family of Valentinian I; then by three members of the Spanish dynasty of Theodosius, followed by occasional emperors belonging to various tribes: Thracians, one Isaurian, and an Illyrian (perhaps an Albanian). During this entire period the throne was never occupied by a Greek.
The sons of Constantine ruled the Empire jointly after the death of their father. The hostility among the three brothers who had divided the rule of the Empire was further complicated by the hard struggle with the Persians and Germans which the Empire had to face at that time. The brothers were kept asunder not only by political differences, but by religious ones as well. While Constantine and Constans were adherents of the Nicene Creed, Constantius, continuing the development of the religious policy of the last years of his father’s life, openly sided with the Arians. During the ensuing civil strife Constantine, and a few years later Constans, were slain. Constantius became the sole ruler of the Empire.
As an ardent adherent of Arianism, Constantius carried out a persistent Arian policy against paganism. One of the decrees of Constantius proclaimed: “Let there be an end to all superstition, and let the insanity of sacrifices be rooted out.” But the pagan temples outside the city wails still remained inviolable for the time being. A few years later a decree ordered the temples closed, forbade entrance to them, and prohibited the offering of sacrifices in all localities and cities of the Empire under the threat of death and confiscation of property. Still another edict stated that the penalty of death would be incurred by anyone who offered sacrifices or worshiped the gods. When Constantius, wishing to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of his reign, arrived for the first time at Rome, he inspected the numerous monuments under the guidance of the senators, who were still pagans, and ordered that the Altar of Victory, personifying for paganism all the former greatness of Rome, be removed from the Senate. This act made a very deep impression on the pagans, for they sensed that the last days of their existence were approaching. Under Constantius the immunities of the clergy were broadened; bishops were exempted from civil trial.
In spite of the harsh measures directed against paganism, it not only continued to exist side by side with Christianity, but at times it even found some protection from the government. Thus Constantius did not disperse the vestals and priests in Rome, and in one of his edicts he even ordered the election of a priest (sacerdos) for Africa, Until the end of his life Constantius bore the title of Pontifex Maximus. On the whole, however, paganism experienced a number of setbacks during his reign, while Christianity in its Arian interpretation advanced.
The persistent Arian policy of Constantius led to serious friction between him and the Nicaeans. Particularly persistent was he in his struggle with the famous leader of the Nicaeans, Athanasius of Alexandria. Constantius died in 361, and neither the Nicaeans nor the pagans could sincerely mourn the death of their emperor. The pagans rejoiced because the throne was to be occupied by Julian, an open adherent of paganism. The feelings of the Christian party in the matter of Constantius’ death was expressed in the words of St. Jerome: “Our Lord awakes, he commands the tempest; the beast dies and tranquillity is restored.” Constantius died during the Persian campaign in Cilicia, but his body was transported to Constantinople. His pompous funeral took place in the presence of the new Emperor Julian in the Church of the Apostles, supposedly erected by Constantine the Great.[67a] The Senate enrolled the deceased emperor among the gods.
Julian the Apostate (361-63).
The name of Julian, the successor of Constantius, is closely connected with the last attempt to restore paganism in the Empire. Julian was an extremely interesting personality, who for a long time has attracted the attention of scholars and writers. The literature about him is very extensive. The writings of Julian himself, which have been preserved, give abundant material for judging his philosophy and actions. The chief aim of investigators in this field has been to understand and interpret this enthusiastic “Hellen” so firmly convinced of the righteousness and success of his undertaking, the man who in the second half of the fourth century set out to restore and revive paganism and make it the basis of the religious life of the Empire.
Julian lost his parents at a very early age: his mother died a few months after his birth, his father died when he was only six years old. He received a very good education. His most influential tutor and general guide was Mardonius, a scholar of Greek literature and philosophy, who had taught Homer and Hesiod to Julian’s mother. While Mardonius acquainted Julian with the masterpieces of classical literature, a Christian clergyman, probably Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia and later of Constantinople, a convinced Arian, introduced him to the study of the Holy Scriptures. Thus, according to one historian, Julian received two different kinds of education which lodged in him side by side without affecting each other. Julian was baptized in his early youth. In later years he recalled this event as a nightmare which he must try to forget.
The early years of Julian’s life were spent in great fear and anxiety. Constantius, regarding him as a possible rival and suspecting him of having designs on the throne, sometimes kept him in provinces far from the capital as a kind of exile and sometimes called him to the capital in order to keep him under observation. Conscious of all the facts about the massacre of many members of his family who had been slain by the order of Constantius, Julian feared death constantly. Constantius forced him to spend a few years in Cappadocia, where he continued the study of ancient writers under the guidance of Mardonius, who accompanied him, and where he also became well acquainted with the Bible and the Gospels. Later Constantius transferred Julian first to Constantinople and then to Nicomedia, where he continued his studies and first exhibited his serious leanings toward paganism.
The greatest rhetorician of that period, Libanius, was lecturing in Nicomedia at that time. He was the true leader of Hellenism, who refused to study Latin, regarding it with disdain. He despised Christianity and attributed the solution of all problems to Hellenism. His enthusiasm for paganism knew no bounds. His lectures were exceedingly popular at Nicomedia. When Constantius decided to send Julian there, he foresaw perhaps what ineffaceable impression the enthusiastic lectures of Libanius might make upon the mind of the young student, and he forbade Julian to attend the lectures of the famous rhetorician. Julian did not formally disobey this imperial command, but he studied the writings of Libanius, discussed the lectures of the inspiring teacher with people who had heard them, and adopted the style and mode of his writings to such an extent that he was afterwards spoken of as a pupil of Libanius. It was also at Nicomedia that Julian studied with enthusiasm the occult neo-Platonic teachings, which at that time aimed to penetrate the future through calling out, by means of certain conjuring formulas, not only ordinary dead people but even the gods (theurgy). The learned philosopher Maximus of Ephesus greatly influenced Julian on this subject.
After surviving the dangerous period of the death of his brother Gallus, slain by the orders of Constantius, Julian was called to the court at Milan for acquittal and then exiled to Athens. This city, famous for its great past, was no more than a quiet provincial town where the famous pagan school stood as a reminder of the former glorious days. Julian’s stay at Athens was full of deep interest. In later life in one of his letters he “recalled with great pleasure the Attic discourses … the gardens and suburbs of Athens and its myrtles, and the humble home of Socrates.” Many historians claim that it was during this stay in Athens that Julian was initiated by an Eleusinian hierophant into the ancient mysteries of Eleusis. This, according to Boissier, was a sort of baptism of a newly converted soul. Some scholars, however, have expressed doubt about the Eleusinian conversion of Julian.
In 355 Constantius appointed Julian to the position of Caesar, married him to his sister, Helena, and sent him as head of the army to Gaul to aid in the long and arduous campaign against the advancing Germans, who were devastating the land, ravaging the cities, and slaying the population. Julian handled the difficult task of saving Gaul very successfully and defeated the Germans near Argentoratum (later Strassburg). Julian’s main seat in Gaul was in Lutetia (Lutetia Parisiorum, later Paris). At that time it was a small city on an island of the Seine, which still bears the name La Cité (Latin civitas), a city which was connected with both banks of the river by means of wooden bridges. On the left side of the Seine, already occupied by many houses and gardens, was the palace erected probably by Constantius Chlorus; the remains of it may still be seen near the Cluny Museum in Paris. Julian chose this palace as his residence. He was fond of Lutetia, and in one of his later works he recalled wintering in his “beloved Lutetia.”
Julian was successful in driving the Germans across the Rhine. “Three times, while I was still Caesar,” he wrote, “I crossed the Rhine; twenty thousand persons who were held as captives on the farther side of the Rhine I demanded and received back ... I have now with the help of the gods recovered all the towns, and by that time I had already recovered almost forty.” Among his soldiers Julian inspired great love and admiration.
Constantius regarded the success of Julian with suspicion and envy. While undertaking the Persian campaign he demanded that Julian send him a reinforcement of legions from Gaul. The Gallic soldiers revolted against this demand and, lifting Julian upon a shield, they proclaimed him Augustus. The new Augustus demanded that Constantius recognize the fait accompli, but Constantius refused to do so. A civil war seemed to be unavoidable. But just at this time Constantius died. In the year 361 Julian was recognized as Emperor throughout the Empire. The adherents and favorites of Constantius were condemned to harsh punishments and persecution instigated by the new Emperor.
Julian for a long time had been an enthusiastic adherent of paganism, but he was forced to hide his religious convictions until the death of Constantius. Upon becoming the full master of the Empire, he set out to realize his sacred dream of restoring his favorite religion. During the first weeks following his ascent to the throne, Julian issued an edict in connection with his cherished plan. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus described this period:
Although from his earliest childhood, Julian inclined to the worship of the gods, and gradually, as he grew up, became more attached to it, yet he was influenced by many apprehensions which made him act in things relating to that subject as secretly as he could. But when his fears were terminated, and he found himself at liberty to do what he pleased, he then showed his secret inclinations, and by plain and positive decree ordered the temples to be opened, and victims to be brought to the altars for the worship of the gods.
This edict was not unexpected, for everyone knew of Julian’s leaning toward paganism. The joy of the pagans knew no bounds; to them the restoration of paganism meant not only religious freedom but religious victory as well.
At the time of Julian’s accession there was not a single pagan temple in Constantinople itself, and since it was impossible to erect temples in a short period of time, it is very likely that Julian performed his solemn offering of sacrifices in the main basilica, originally intended for promenades and conferences and decorated since the time of Constantine the Great by the statue of Fortuna. According to the church historian Sozomen, the following incident took place in the basilica: An aged blind man led by a child approached the Emperor and publicly called him an irreligious man, an atheist, and an apostate. Julian answered to this: “Thou art blind, and the Galilean, thy God, will not cure thee.” The aged man answered, “I thank God for my blindness, since it prevents me from beholding thy impiety.” Julian passed by this daring remark without any comment and continued the offering of sacrifices.
In proposing to revive paganism Julian was fully aware that it was impossible to restore it in its former purely material form; it was necessary to reform and improve paganism in many respects in order to create an organization capable of combating the Christian church. For this purpose the Emperor decided to borrow many elements from the Christian organization, with which he was well acquainted. He organized the pagan priesthood along the principles of the hierarchy of the Christian church; the interiors of pagan temples were arranged according to the examples set by Christian temples; the pagans were to conduct discourses and read about the mysteries of Hellenic wisdom (this compared with the Christian sermons); singing was introduced into pagan services; an irreproachable mode of living was demanded of priests; orders were threatened with excommunication and penance. In other words, in order to revive and adapt the restored paganism, Julian turned to a source which he despised deeply.
The number of beasts sacrificed on the altars of the gods was so great that it called forth doubt and a certain amount of jest even among the pagans. The Emperor himself took an active part in the offering of sacrifices and did not abhor even the lowest menial labor connected with these performances. According to Libanius, he ran around the altar, kindled the fire, handled the knife, slaughtered the birds, and knew all about their entrails. In connection with the unusually large number of animals used for sacrifices, the epigram once directed toward another emperor, the philosopher Marcus Aurelius, became current again: “The white cattle to Marcus Caesar, greeting! If you conquer there is an end of us.”
This apparent triumph of paganism was bound to affect strongly the position of the Christians in the Empire. At first it seemed that no serious menace was threatening Christianity. Julian invited the dissenting leaders of various religious parties and their congregations to the palace and announced that now, civil strifes having been ended, every man could follow his chosen religion without any impediment or fear. Thus a proclamation of religious tolerance was one of the first acts of Julian’s independent rule. Sometimes the Christians would begin their disputes in the presence of Julian, and then the Emperor would say, in the words of Marcus Aurelius, “Listen to me, to whom the Alemanni and Franks have listened.” Soon after Julian’s accession an edict recalled from exile all the bishops banished during the reign of Constantius, no matter what their religious convictions, and returned to them their confiscated property.
Because these religious leaders recalled from exile belonged to different religious parties and were irreconcilable in their opinions, they could not live peacefully side by side and soon became involved in very serious disputes. Apparently Julian had counted on just such a development. Although seemingly he granted religious freedom to all, Julian was well acquainted with the psychology of the Christians and felt certain that discord would follow immediately; a disunited Christian church could not be a serious menace to paganism. At the same time Julian offered great privileges to those who would consent to renounce Christianity. There were many cases of such apostasy. St. Jerome called this policy of Julian “a gentle persecution, which attracted rather than forced people to join in the offering of sacrifices.”
Meanwhile, Christians were being gradually removed from civil and military posts and their places were being taken by pagans. The famous labarum of Constantine, which served as the standard in the army, was abolished, and the shining crosses on the soldiers’ shields were replaced with pagan emblems.
But the act which dealt Christianity the most painful blow was Julian’s school reform. The first edict concerned the appointment of professors in the leading cities of the Empire. The candidates were to be elected by the cities, but each choice was to be submitted to the Emperor for approval. The latter could thus refuse to sanction the election of any professor he disliked. Formerly the appointment of professors had been within the jurisdiction of the city. Still more important was a second decree, preserved in the letters of Julian. It stated that “all who profess to teach anything whatever must be men of upright character and must not harbor in their souls opinions irreconcilable with the spirit of the state.” By “the spirit of the state” this decree meant the paganistic tendencies of the Emperor himself. In this order Julian declared it absurd that men who expounded the works of Homer, Hesiod, Demosthenes, Herodotus, and other classical writers should dishonor the gods whom these writers honored:
I give them this choice, either not to teach what they do not think admirable, or, if they wish to teach, let them first really persuade their pupils that neither Homer nor Hesiod nor any of these writers whom they expound and have declared to be guilty of impiety, folly, and error in regard to the gods, is such as they declare. For since they make a livelihood and receive pay from the works of these writers, they thereby confess that they are most shamefully greedy of gain, and that, for the sake of a few drachmae, they would put up with anything. It is true that, until now, there were many excused for not attending the temples, and the terror that threatened on all sides absolved men for concealing the truest beliefs about the gods. But since the gods have granted us liberty, it seems to me absurd that men should teach what they do not believe to be sound. But if they believe that those whose interpreters they are and for whom they sit, so to speak, in the seat of the prophets, were wise men, let them be the first to emulate their piety toward the gods. If, however, they think that those writers were in error with respect to the most honored gods, let them betake themselves to the churches of the Galilaeans to expound Matthew and Luke … Such is the general ordinance for religious and secular teachers … Though indeed it might be proper to cure these, even against their will, as one cures the insane, except that we concede indulgence to all for this sort of disease. For we ought, I think, to teach, but not punish, the demented.”
Ammianus Marcellinus, a friend of Julian and his companion in military campaigns, explained briefly this edict; “[Julian] forbade the Christian masters of rhetorical grammar to teach unless they came over to the worship of the gods,” in other words, unless they became pagans. On the basis of references made by some of the Christian writers of that time, some people suppose that Julian issued a second decree forbidding Christians not only to teach but even to study in the public schools. St. Augustine wrote: “And did not Julian, who forbade the Christians to teach and study the liberal arts (liberales litteras), persecute the church?” But the text of the second decree has not been preserved; it is possible that such a decree was never issued, especially since the first decree forbidding the Christians to teach indirectly involved the restriction upon study. After the publication of the teaching edict the Christians could send their children only to grammar and rhetorical schools with pagan teaching, and from that the majority of Christians abstained because they feared that within one or two generations of pagan instruction Christian youth might return to paganism. On the other hand, if Christians were not to receive a general education, they were bound to become the intellectual inferiors of the pagans. Thus Julian’s decree, even if there was only one, was of extreme significance to the Christians, since it greatly endangered the future of Christianity. Gibbon quite justly remarked: “The Christians were directly forbidden to teach; they were also indirectly forbidden to study, since they could not [morally] attend pagan schools.”
An overwhelmingly large majority of the Christian rhetoricians and grammarians preferred to abandon their profession rather than turn back to paganism. Even among the pagans the attitude toward Julian’s edict varied. The pagan writer Ammianus Marcellinus wrote concerning this: “But Julian’s forbidding masters of rhetoric and grammar to instruct Christians was a cruel action, and one deserving to be buried in everlasting silence.”
It is interesting to note how the Christians reacted to this edict. Some of them naively rejoiced that the Emperor made it more difficult for the faithful ones to study the pagan writers. In order to replace the forbidden pagan literature, the Christian writers of that period, especially Apollinarius the Elder and Apollinarius the Younger, father and son, proposed to create for use in the school, a new literature of their own. With this aim in view, they translated the Psalms into forms similar to the odes of Pindar; the Pentateuch of Moses they rendered into hexameter; the Gospels were rewritten in the style of Plato’s dialogues. Of this sudden literature, which could not possess any genuine artistic qualities, nothing has survived. It disappeared immediately after Julian’s death, when his decree lost its significance.
In the summer of 362 Julian undertook a Journey through the eastern provinces and stopped at Antioch, where the population, according to Julian himself, “have chosen atheism,” that is, Christianity. The predominance of Christians explains why in the triumphal official reception accorded the Emperor at Antioch there was felt, and at times manifested, a certain coldness and even hatred. Julian’s stay at Antioch is very significant, because it convinced him of the difficulty, and even impossibility, of restoring paganism. The Syrian capital remained completely unmoved by the religious sympathies of the visiting Emperor. Julian told the story of his visit in his satirical work, Misopogon, or Beardhater. During an important pagan holiday he expected to see at the temple of Apollo, in the Antioch suburb of Daphne, a large crowd of people, beasts for sacrifice, libations, incense, and other attributes of a pagan festival. Upon entering the temple, he found, to his great astonishment, only one priest with a single goose for sacrifice. In Julian’s version:
In the tenth month, according to your reckoning — Loos, I think you call it — there is a festival founded by your forefathers in honor of this god [Helios, Sun God, Apollo], and it was your duty to be zealous in visiting Daphne. Accordingly, I hastened thither from the temple of Zeus Kasios, thinking that at Daphne, if anywhere, I should enjoy the sight of your wealth and public spirit. And I imagined in my own mind the sort of procession it would be, like a man seeing visions in a dream, beasts for sacrifice, libations, choruses in honor of the god, incense, and the youths of your city there surrounding the shrine, their souls adorned with all holiness and themselves attired in white and splendid raiment. But when I entered the shrine I found there no incense, not so much as a cake, not a single beast for sacrifice. For the moment I was amazed and thought that I was still outside the shrine and that you were waiting the signal from me, doing me that honor because I am supreme pontiff. But when I began to inquire what sacrifice the city intended to offer to celebrate the annual festival in honor of the god, the priest answered, “I have brought with me from my own house a goose as an offering to the god, but the city this time has made no preparations.”
Thus Antioch failed to respond to this festival occasion. Similar occurrences provoked Julian’s hatred against the Christians. His irritation grew still stronger when a sudden fire broke out in the temple of Daphne. Naturally the Christians were suspected of setting the temple on fire. Greatly provoked by this calamity, Julian ordered that the Christians should be punished by the closing of the main church of Antioch, which was immediately robbed of its treasures and subjected to sacrilege. This example was followed by many other cities. Conditions were becoming very grave. The Christians in their turn destroyed images of the gods. Some of the Christian leaders suffered martyrdom. Complete anarchy menaced the Empire.
In the spring of 363 Julian left Antioch and started out on his Persian campaign, during which he was mortally wounded by a spear. He died shortly after being transported to his tent. No one knew exactly who struck the fatal blow, and later many versions of this incident became current. Among them, of course, was the version that the Emperor was killed by the Christians. Christian historians, however, relate the well-known legend “that the Emperor threw a handful of his own blood [from his wound] into the air and exclaimed, ‘Thou hast conquered. Oh, Galilaean!”
His army generals and close friends gathered about the dying Emperor in his tent and Julian addressed to them his farewell message. This speech is preserved in the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus (xxv, 3, 15-20). While anticipating his death with philosophical calmness, the Emperor presented a defense of his life and actions, and, feeling that his strength was ebbing, he expressed the hope that a good sovereign might be found to take his place. However, he did not name any successor. Noticing that all around him were weeping, he reproved them with still undiminished authority, saying that it was humiliating to mourn for an emperor who was just united to heaven and the stars. He died at midnight, on June 26, in the year 363, at the age of thirty-two. The famous rhetorician Libanius compared the death of Julian to the death of Socrates.
The army proclaimed as emperor the head of the court guards, Jovian, a Christian of the Nicene Creed. Forced by the king of Persia, Jovian had to sign a peace treaty according to which Persia obtained several provinces on the eastern bank of the Tigris, The death of Julian was greeted with joy by the Christians. Christian writers named the Emperor “dragon,” “Nebuchadnezzar,” “Herod,” and “monster.” But he was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in a porphyry sarcophagus.
Julian left a number of writings which afford an opportunity to become more closely acquainted with him. The center of Julian’s religious convictions was the cult of the sun, which was created under the direct influence of the cult of the bright god, Mithras, and the ideas of a degenerated Platonism. From his very early childhood Julian loved nature, especially the sky. In his discourse on the “King Sun,” the main source for his religious philosophy, he wrote that from early childhood an extraordinary longing for the rays of the divine planet penetrated deep into his soul. And not only did he desire to gaze intently at the sun in the daytime, but on clear nights he would abandon all else without exception and give himself up to the beauties of the heavens. Absorbed in his meditations he would not hear those who spoke to him and would at times be unconscious of what he himself was doing. According to Julian’s own rather obscure account of his religious theories, his religious philosophy reduced itself to a belief in the existence of three worlds in the form of three suns. The first sun is the supreme sun, the idea of all being, the spiritual intelligible (νοητος) whole; it is the embodiment of absolute truth, the kingdom of supreme principles and first causes. The visible world and the visible sun, i.e. the material world, is only a reflection of the first world, but not an immediate reflection. Between these two worlds, the intelligible and the material, there lies the intellectual (νοερος) world with a sun of its own. Thus, a triad of suns is formed: the intelligible or spiritual, the intellectual, and the material. The intellectual world is a reflection of the intelligible or spiritual and in its turn serves as an example for the material world, which is thus only a reflection of a reflection, an inferior reproduction of the absolute model. The supreme sun is too inaccessible for man. The sun of the physical is too material for deification. Therefore Julian concentrated all his attention on the central intellectual sun. He called it the “King Sun” and adored it.
In spite of his enthusiasm, Julian understood that the restoration of paganism involved many great difficulties. In one of his letters he wrote: “I need many to help me to raise up again what has fallen on evil days.” But Julian did not understand that the fallen paganism could not rise again because it was dead. His undertaking was doomed to failure. “His schemes,” Boissier said, “could afford to be wrecked; the world had nothing to lose by their failure.” “This enthusiastic philhellen,” Geffcken wrote, is half Oriental and ‘Frühbyzantiner.’” Another biographer said, “The Emperor Julian seems as a fugitive and luminous apparition on the horizon beneath which had already disappeared the star of that Greece which to him was the Holy Land of civilization, the mother of all that was good and beautiful in the world, of that Greece which, with filial and enthusiastic devotion, he called his only true country.”
The Church and the state at the end of the fourth century
Theodosius the Great and the triumph of Christianity. — During the reign of Julian’s successor, Jovian (363-64), a devoted follower of the Nicene Creed, Christianity was restored to its former position. This did not involve new persecutions of the pagans, however, whose fears on this account at the time of Jovian’s succession proved to be unfounded. Jovian intended to establish throughout the empire the order which had existed before Julian. He proclaimed complete religious toleration. He allowed the pagans to reopen their temples and continue the offering of sacrifices. In spite of his adherence to the Nicene doctrines, he undertook no compulsory legislation against the other ecclesiastical parties. Christian exiles of different sects returned from banishment. The labarum appeared again in the army. Jovian reigned only a few months, but his activity in the realm of ecclesiastical affairs made a strong impression on his contemporaries. The Christian historian of the fifth century, Philostorgius, an Arian, remarked: “The Emperor Jovian restored the churches to their original uses, and set them free from all the vexatious persecutions inflicted on them, by the Apostate.”
Jovian died suddenly in February, 364. He was succeeded by two brothers, Valentinian I (364-75) and Valens (364-78), who divided the rule of the Empire: Valentinian became the ruler of the western half of the Empire and Valens was authorized to govern the eastern half. The brothers differed greatly in their religious outlook. Valentinian followed the Nicene Creed; Valens was an Arian. But the Nicene allegiance of Valentinian did not make him intolerant of other creeds, and during his reign religious freedom was more secure and complete than before. At the beginning of his rule he issued a decree granting each man “the freedom of worshiping whatever his conscience dictated to him.” Paganism was freely tolerated. Yet Valentinian showed that he was a Christian emperor by a number of measures; one of them restored all the privileges granted the clergy by Constantine the Great. Valens followed an entirely different policy. Upon declaring himself a follower of Arianism, he became intolerant of all other Christian doctrines, and though his persecutions were neither severe nor systematic, people in the eastern part of the Empire did go through a period of great fear and anxiety during his reign.
In the matter of external affairs the brothers were forced to face a very severe struggle with the Germans. Valens died prematurely during his campaign with the Goths. Valentinian was succeeded in the West by his sons, Gratian (375-83) and the child Valentinian II (375-92). After the death of Valens (378), Gratian appointed Theodosius as Augustus of the East and Illyricum.
Disregarding the young and irresolute Valentinian II, an Arian adherent, who played no important role in the internal policies of the Empire, the government under Gratian and Theodosius quite definitely forsook the policy of religious toleration and manifested a decided inclination toward the Nicene Creed. Of particular significance in this respect was the policy of the eastern ruler, Theodosius, surnamed “The Great” (379-95), whose name is always associated with the triumph of Christianity. His decided preference for his chosen creed left no room for toleration of paganism.
The family of Theodosius came into the foreground in the second half of the century as a result of the efforts of the father of the Emperor, also named Theodosius, who was one of the brilliant army generals in the West during the reign of Valentinian I. Before his appointment to the high rank of Augustus, Theodosius was only slightly interested in Christian ideas; but in the year following his appointment he was baptized in Thessalonica by the bishop of the city, Ascholius, a Nicaean.
Theodosius has to face two difficult problems: (1) the establishment of unity within the Empire which was being torn asunder by the dissenting religious parties; and (2) the defense of the Empire against the steady advance of the German barbarians, the Goths, who at the time of Theodosius threatened the very existence of the Empire.
During the reign of Valens, Arianism played the dominant role. After the death of Valens, especially in the absence of a ruler during the short period preceding the election of Theodosius, religious disputes burst forth once more and at times assumed very crude forms. These disquieting movements were felt particularly in Constantinople. The disputes on dogma, passing beyond the limited circle of the clergy, were taken up by all classes of society and were discussed even by the crowds in the streets. The problem of the nature of the Son of God had aroused heated discussions everywhere since the middle of the fourth century: in the cathedrals and churches, in the imperial palace, in the huts of hermits, in the squares and markets. Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa, wrote, not without sarcasm, of the prevailing conditions in the second half of the fourth century: “Everything is full of those who are speaking of unintelligible things — streets, markets, squares, crossroads. I ask how many oboli I have to pay; in answer they are philosophizing on the born or unborn; I wish to know the price of bread; one answers: ‘The Father is greater than the Son;’ I inquire whether my bath is ready; one says, ‘The Son has been made out of nothing.’”
By the time of the succession of Theodosius conditions had changed. Upon arriving in Constantinople, he proposed to the Arian bishop that he renounce Arianism and join the creed of Nicaea. The bishop, however, refused and preferred to leave the capital and live outside the city gates, where he continued to hold Arian meetings. All the churches in Constantinople were turned over to the Nicaeans.
Theodosius was confronted with the questions of regulating his relations with the heretics and pagans. Even in Constantine’s time the Catholic (i.e. universal) church (ecclesia catholica) had been contrasted with the heretics (haeretici). During the reign of Theodosius the distinction between a Catholic and a heretic was definitely established by law: a Catholic was an adherent of the Nicene Creed; followers of other religious tendencies were heretics. The pagans (pagani) were considered in a separate category.
After Theodosius had openly declared himself a follower of the Nicene Creed, he began his long and obstinate struggle with the pagans and heretics, inflicting upon them penalties which grew more harsh as time went on. By the decree of 380 A.D. only those who believed in the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as preached by the apostolic writings and the Gospels, were considered Catholic Christians; all others, “the mad and insane” people, who adhered to “the infamy of heretic doctrine,” had no right to call their meeting places churches and were subject to severe punishment.” According to one historian, this decree shows clearly that Theodosius “was the first of the emperors to regulate for his own sake, and not for the sake of the church, the body of Christian doctrine obligatory on his subjects.” Theodosius issued several other decrees which definitely forbade the heretics to hold assemblies, either public or private; the right to assemble was reserved solely for the followers of the Nicene symbol, who were to take over all the churches in the capital and throughout the Empire. The civil rights of the heretics were greatly curtailed, especially those concerned with bequests and inheritance.
For all his partisanship, Theodosius was anxious to establish peace and harmony in the Christian church. For this purpose he convoked a council in the year 381 at Constantinople, in which only members of the eastern church participated. This council is known as the Second Ecumenical Council. Of no other ecumenical council is the information so inadequate. The proceedings (acts) of this one are unknown. For a while it was not even recognized as an ecumenical council; only in the year 451, at a later ecumenical council, was it officially sanctioned as such. The chief religious question discussed at the Second Ecumenical Council was the heresy of Macedonius, a semi-Arian who attempted to prove that the Holy Spirit was created. The council condemned the heresy of Macedonius, as well as a number of other heresies based upon Arianism; confirmed the declaration of the Nicene symbol about the Father and Son, adding to it the part about the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father; and adopted the teaching that the Holy Spirit is of one essence with the Father and the Son. Because information about this council is so inadequate, some western European scholars are dubious as to the creed of Constantinople, which became not only the dominant creed, but the official symbol as well, for all Christian denominations, in spite of their divergence as to dogma. Some scholars have affirmed that this new creed was not and could not be the work of the second council, that it was apocryphal; others have tried to prove that this symbol was composed either before or after the second council. The majority of scholars, however, especially the Russian church historians, agree that the creed of Constantinople was actually framed by the Fathers of the second council, though it became widespread only after the victory of orthodoxy at the Council of Chalcedon.
The second council also established the rank of patriarch of Constantinople in relation to the bishop of Rome, The third canon of the council declares: “The bishop of Constantinople shall rank next to the bishop of Rome, because Constantinople is New Rome,” because of the political pre-eminence of the city as the capital of the Empire. Patriarchs of older eastern sees objected to this exaltation of the patriarch of Constantinople.
The see of Constantinople was at that time occupied by Gregory of Nazianzus, the Theologian, who had played a very important role in the capital during the first years of the reign of Theodosius. He was unable to manage the numerous dissenting parties represented at the council and was later forced to withdraw from his see, leave the council, and depart from Constantinople. His place was taken by Nectarius, a man of the world, one of limited theological attainments, who knew how to keep on good terms with the Emperor. Nectarius became president of the council, which in the summer of the year 381 closed its sessions.
In his attitude toward the clergy at large, that is, the Catholic (Nicene) clergy, Theodosius was rather generous. He conserved and occasionally enlarged the privileges granted by some of his predecessors to the bishops and clergy, privileges regarding personal duties, court responsibilities, and the like. He took care, however, that all these privileges should not interfere with the interests of the government. Thus by one edict Theodosius imposed upon the church extraordinary government duties (extraordinaria munera). The availability of the church as a refuge for criminals prosecuted by the government was greatly limited because of the frequent abuses of this privilege. In particular, people indebted to the government were forbidden to seek protection in the temples against debt collectors, and the clergy were prohibited from hiding them.
Theodosius aimed to be the sole arbiter of the church affairs of the Empire, and on the whole he succeeded in this aim. In one instance, however, he came into serious conflict with one of the distinguished leaders of the western church, Ambrose, bishop of Mediolanum (Milan). Theodosius and Ambrose held diametrically opposed views on the relation between the church and the state: the former stood for the supremacy of the state over the church; the latter assumed that the church could not be subject to the temporal power.
The conflict centered about the massacres which took place in Thessalonica. In this rich and populous city a large number of Germanic troops were quartered, headed by a very tactless and inefficient commander who did nothing to prevent the violence of the soldiers. The city population, provoked by the German outrages, finally revolted and killed the commanding officers as well as many soldiers. The infuriated Theodosius, well disposed toward the Germans, who ranked high in his army, smote the citizens of Thessalonica with a bloody massacre, showing no mercy to sex or age; the Emperor’s orders were executed by the Germans. The horrible deed was not allowed to pass unpunished. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius, who, in spite of his power, was forced publicly to acknowledge his own guilt and then to observe humbly the penance imposed by Ambrose, who forbade him to wear the imperial regalia during the period of atonement.
During the merciless struggle with the heretics, Theodosius took decisive steps also against the pagans. Several decrees prohibited the offering of sacrifices, the divinations by the entrails of animals, and the visiting of the temples. In effect this amounted to the closing of many pagan temples, some of which were then used for government purposes, while others were almost completely destroyed, and all their rich treasures of art demolished by the fanatical mob. The destruction of the famous temple of the god Serapis, the Serapeum, which still remained the center of pagan worship in the city of Alexandria, is particularly significant. The last decree against the pagans was issued by Theodosius in the year 392. It prohibited completely the offering of sacrifices, burning of incense, hanging of garlands, libations, divinations, and so forth. It also declared all who disobeyed these orders guilty of offense against the Emperor and religion and liable therefore to severe penalties. This decree referred to the old religion as “a pagan superstition” (gentilicia superstitio).
One historian called this edict of 392 “the funeral song of paganism.” It was the last step taken by Theodosius in his war upon paganism in the East. In the western part of the Empire a particularly well-known episode during the struggle of Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius against paganism centered about the removal of the Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate. The altar had been removed during Constantine’s reign, but had been restored by Julian the Apostate. The senators, who were still half pagan, viewed this forced removal of the altar as the final ruin of the former greatness of Rome. The famous pagan orator, Symmachus, was sent to the Emperor with a plea for the restoration of the statue to the Senate. Th. I. Uspensky spoke of this plea as “the last song of a dying paganism which timidly and mournfully begged mercy of the young Emperor (Valentinian II) for the faith to which his ancestors were indebted for their fame, and Rome for its greatness.” Symmachus did not succeed in his mission. The year 393 saw the last celebration of the Olympic games. Among other monuments of antiquity, the statue of Zeus, the work of Phidias, was transferred from Olympia to Constantinople.
The religious policy of Theodosius, therefore, differed greatly from that of his predecessors, who, while favoring some one Christian party or paganism (as did Julian), still followed to some extent a policy of toleration toward other religious groups; de jure parity of religious beliefs still persisted. But by designating the Nicene Creed as the only legal creed, Theodosius laid an absolute veto upon all other tendencies in the Christian fold, as well as upon paganism. Theodosius was one of those emperors who believed that their authority should encompass the church and the religious life of their subjects. The aim of his life was to create a single Nicene church; but in spite of his efforts he did not succeed. Religious disputes, far from ceasing, only multiplied and spread very rapidly, making religious life in the fifth century most stormy and passionate. Over paganism Theodosius attained a complete triumph. Deprived of opportunity to avow its faith openly, paganism ceased to exist as an organized whole. There were still pagans, of course; only as separate families or individuals did they cherish secretly the beloved past of their dying religion. The famous pagan school at Athens, however, was not affected by any of the decrees of Theodosius; it continued its work of spreading the knowledge of classical literature among its students.
The German (Gothic) problem in the fourth century. — The Gothic question was the most acute problem of the Empire at the end of the fourth century. For reasons still unknown the Goths, who at the opening of the Christian era had occupied the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, migrated, probably in the latter part of the second century, further south into the territory of present-day Southern Russia. They reached as far as the shores of the Black Sea and settled in the districts between the Don and lower Danube. The Dniester divided the Goths into two tribes: the eastern Goths, otherwise named Ostrogoths or Ostgoths, and the western Goths, or Visigoths. Like all other Germanic tribes of this period, the Goths were barbarians. In their new territory they found themselves under very favorable cultural conditions. The northern shore of the Black Sea for a long time before the Christian era, had been covered with numerous rich Greek colonies, whose cultural level was very high. Their influence, as proved by archeological data, reached out far into the north, and was felt even centuries later during the early Christian period. At the time of the Gothic migration to the shores of the Black Sea, the Crimea was occupied by the rich and civilized kingdom of the Bosporus. Through contact with these old Greek colonies and the kingdom of the Bosporus, the Goths became acquainted with the classical culture of antiquity, while by continuous proximity to the Roman Empire in the Balkan peninsula they came in touch with more recent developments of civilization. As a result of these influences, the Goths, when later they appeared in western Europe, were culturally superior to all the other Germanic tribes, who entered their historical life in the West in a state of complete barbarism.
During the third century, following their settlement in the south near the Black Sea, the Goths directed their activities along two distinct paths: on the one hand, they were attracted by the sea and the possibilities it offered for raiding the cities along its shores; on the other hand, in the southwest, the Goths reached the borders of the Roman Empire on the Danube and came in contact with the Empire.
The Goths first gained a hold on the north shore of the Black Sea, and then, in the third century A.D., they invaded the greater part of the Crimea and the kingdom of the Bosporus. In the second half of the third century they undertook a number of piratical raids, using Bosporian vessels. They repeatedly robbed the rich coastland of the Caucasus and Asia Minor. By following the western shore of the Black Sea they entered the Danube, and crossing the sea, they even made their way, by the Bosphorus, to the Pro-pontis (Sea of Marmora), and through the Hellespont (the Dardanelles) into the Archipelago. On these raids they pillaged Byzantium, Chrysopolis (on the Asiatic side facing Byzantium; Scutari at present), Cyzicus, Nicomedia, and the islands of the Archipelago. The Gothic pirates went even farther than this: they attacked Ephesus and Thessalonica, and upon reaching the Greek shores they sacked Argos, Corinth, and probably even Athens. Fortunately, however, the invaluable monuments of classical art in Athens were spared. The islands of Crete, Rhodes, and even far-removed Cyprus suffered from several Gothic attacks. Still, in all these expeditions by sea, they contented themselves with pillage, after which the Gothic vessels would return to their homes on the northern shores of the Black Sea. Many of these bands of sea robbers were either exterminated on foreign shores or captured by Roman troops.
Far more serious were the relations of the Goths with the Empire on land. Taking advantage of the troubles and anarchy in the Empire in the third century, the Goths began to cross the Danube and to enter the territory of the Empire as early as the first half of that century. The Emperor Gordian was forced to pay the Goths an annual tribute. But even this did not suffice. A short while later the Goths again entered Roman territory and swarmed over Macedonia and Thrace. The Emperor Decius marched against them and fell in battle in the year 251. In 269 Claudius succeeded in defeating the Goths near Naissus (Nish). Of the large number of prisoners captured during this battle, some were placed in the army, while others were made to settle as coloni in the depopulated Roman provinces. For this victory over the Goths, Claudius was surnamed “the Gothic” (Gothicus). But Aurelian, who had temporarily restored the Empire (270-75), was forced to give up Dacia to the barbarians and transfer its population to Moesia. In the fourth century there are frequent references to Goths in the army. According to the historian Jordanes, a division of Goths served the Romans faithfully during the reign of Maximian.” It is well known that the Goths in the army of Constantine the Great helped him in his struggle with Licinius. In Constantine’s time the Visigoths agreed to furnish the Emperor with 40,000 soldiers. There was also a Gothic regiment in the army of Julian.
In the third century Christianity began to spread among the Goths; it was most probably imported by Christian prisoners captured in Asia Minor during the numerous sea raids. The Gothic Christians were even represented at the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea by their bishop, Theophilus, one of the signers of the Nicene symbol. The true enlightener of the Goths on the Danube during the fourth century was Ulfila (Vulfila), supposed by some to be of Greek extraction, but born on Gothic soil. He had spent a number of years in Constantinople, where he was later ordained bishop by an Arian bishop. When he returned to the Goths he preached Christianity according to the Arian doctrine for a number of years. In order to introduce the Gospels among his people he invented a Gothic alphabet, based in part on the Greek letters, and translated the Bible into the Gothic language. The spread of Arian Christianity among the Goths was of great significance for their subsequent historical life, for during the period of their settlement on the territory of the Roman Empire it was this difference in religious convictions which prevented them from blending with the natives, who were followers of the Nicene Creed. The Crimean Goths remained orthodox.
Peaceful relations between the Goths and the Empire ceased in the year 376 with the advance of the Huns from Asia. They were a savage people of Mongolian race. In their onward march to the West they defeated the east Goths, or Ostrogoths, and with them advanced farther, reaching the territory occupied by the Visigoths, The latter, exposed as a border nation to the full force of the attack and unable to offer adequate resistance to the Huns, whose horrible massacres did not even spare the Gothic women and children, had to force their way across the border into the territory of the Roman Empire. The sources relate that the Goths stood on the northern bank of the Danube and with loud lamentations entreated the Roman authorities to permit them to cross the river. The barbarians offered to settle in Thrace and Moesia and till the soil, and promised to furnish soldiers for the army and to obey all commands of the Emperor just as his subjects did. A delegation was sent to the Emperor to state the case of the Goths. The majority of high Roman officials and generals were in favor of accepting the Goths, for they recognized all the advantages the government would gain by doing so. First, they thought it a good way of rehabilitating the farming districts and the army. Then, too, the new subjects would defend the Empire, while the old inhabitants of the provinces could be exempted from military service by the payment of a money tax, which would greatly increase the government income. The men in favor of admitting the Goths were victorious, and the barbarians received official permission to cross the Danube. “Thus,” said Fustel de Coulanges, “four or five hundred thousand barbarians, half of whom could handle arms, were admitted to the territory of the Empire.” Even if the foregoing figure be considered an exaggeration, the fact still remains that the number of Goths who settled in Moesia was very large. At first these barbarians led a very peaceful life, but gradually they became dissatisfied and irritated because of the peculations of the generals and officials, who made a practice of concealing part of the funds assigned for the needs of the settlers. Not only did these high officials feed the Goths poorly, but they also mistreated the men, insulted their wives, and offended their children. Many of the Goths were shipped across the sea and settled in Asia Minor. The complaints of the Goths received no attention, and the barbarians finally revolted. They obtained the help of Alans and Huns, forced their way into Thrace, and headed for Constantinople. At that time the Emperor Valens was carrying on a campaign with Persia, but when the news of the Gothic revolt reached him he left Antioch and arrived at Constantinople promptly. A decisive battle took place near Hadrianople in the year 378, in which Valens was killed and the Roman army completely defeated.
The road to the capital apparently lay open before the Goths, who overran the Balkan peninsula as far as the walls of Constantinople, but they evidently had no general plan of attacking the Empire, The successor of Valens, Theodosius, aided by his own Gothic troops, was successful in defeating and stopping their raids within the Empire. Thus, while one group of the Goths struggled against the Empire, the others were willing to serve in the imperial army and fight against men of their own tribe. The pagan historian of the fifth century, Zosimus, related that after the victory of Theodosius, “peace was established in Thrace, for the barbarians who had been there had perished.” The victory of the Goths at Hadrianople did not aid them in becoming established in any one province of the Empire.
On the other hand, from this time forward the Germans began to influence the life of the Empire in a peaceful manner. Theodosius was fully aware that he could not master the barbarians within the Empire by force, and he decided to follow a policy of peaceful relations with the Goths, to introduce among them certain elements of Roman culture, and to draw them into the ranks of the Roman army. In the course of time the army, whose duty it was to defend the Empire, was gradually transformed in its greater part into a German army, whose members often had to defend the Empire against their own kinsmen. Gothic influence was felt in higher military circles as well as in the administration. Many very responsible posts were in German hands. Theodosius, in following his Germanophile policy, failed to realize that a free growth of Germanism might menace the Empire’s existence. He showed particular lack of wisdom in placing the defense of the Empire in the hands of the Germans, In due time the Goths assimilated the Roman art of warfare, Roman tactics and methods of combat, and were rapidly growing into a powerful force which could at any moment challenge the Empire. The native Greco-Roman population, forced into the background, watched the growth of German power with restlessness. An anti-German movement grew up, which might have led to very grave crises in the life of the Empire.
Theodosius died in the year 395 at Milan; his embalmed body was transferred to Constantinople and buried in the Temple of the Apostles. For his great service to Christianity in its struggle with paganism Theodosius was surnamed “the Great.” His too young and weak sons, Arcadius and Honorius, were proclaimed the rulers of the Empire; Arcadius became the emperor of the eastern part, and Honorius ruled in the West.
Theodosius did not succeed in solving the main problems of his period. The Second Ecumenical Council, by proclaiming the Nicene Creed the dominant form of Christianity, failed to achieve church unity. Arianism in its various manifestations continued to exist and in its further development caused new religious movements, which in the fifth century involved not only the religious interests of the Empire, but also connected with them, the social life of that period. This was particularly true of the eastern provinces, Syria and Egypt, where the new religious developments caused extremely significant consequences. In fact, Theodosius was forced during the later years of his life to recede from his original firm Nicene position. He was compelled to make concessions to the Arian Germans, who at the time formed the overwhelming majority in the army. Thus, in the religious field as well as in administrative and military realms, the Goths exerted great influence. The main center of their power was the capital itself, the Balkan peninsula, and part of Asia Minor. The eastern provinces, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, did not feel the Gothic power to any considerable extent. Thus on religious as on racial grounds, the dissatisfaction of the native population was growing very strong. In short, Theodosius failed to solve the two significant problems of his reign: the creation of a unique and uniform church and the establishment of harmonious relations with the barbarians. These two exceedingly complicated problems remained for his successors.
Nationality and religion in the fifth century.— This epoch is of particularly great importance for the ways in which the main national and religious problems were met. The national problem was concerned with the discord among the different nationalities within the Empire as well as the conflicts with the tribes attacking it from without.
Hellenism, it would seem, should have been the main force unifying the varied population of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, but in reality it was not. Hellenistic influence could be found in the East as far as the Euphrates and in Egypt as early as the time of Alexander of Macedon and his successors. Alexander himself considered colonization one of the best means for transplanting Hellenism; it is said that he alone founded more than seventy cities in the East. His successors continued this policy of colonization. The areas to which Hellenism had spread to some extent reached as far as Armenia in the north and the Red Sea in the south and as far as Persia and Mesopotamia in the East. Beyond these provinces Hellenism did not reach. The main center of Hellenistic culture became the Egyptian city, Alexandria. All along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, Hellenic culture predominated. Of these three sections, Asia Minor was perhaps the most Hellenized; its coast had been occupied for a long period of time by Greek colonies, and their influence gradually, though not easily, penetrated into the interior of the region.
Hellenization of Syria, where Hellenic culture reached only the higher educated class, was much weaker. The mass of the population, unacquainted with the Greek language, continued to speak their own native tongues, Syriac or Arabic. One learned orientalist wrote: “If even in such a world-city as Antioch the common man still spoke Aramaic, i.e., Syriac, then one may safely suppose that inside the province the Greek language was not the language of the educated class, but only the language of those who made a special study of it.” The Syrian-Roman Lawbook of the fifth century was striking proof of the fact that the native Syriac language was widely used in the East. The oldest Syriac manuscript of this lawbook now in existence was written in the early part of the sixth century, before Justinian’s time. This Syriac text, which was probably written in northeastern Syria, is a translation from the Greek. The Greek original has not yet been discovered, but on the basis of some existing data it must have been written some time during the seventies of the fifth century. In any case the Syriac translation appeared almost immediately after the publication of the Greek original. In addition to the Syriac text there exist also Arabic and Armenian versions of the lawbook, which indicate that the book was very probably of church origin, since it analyzes with much detail the items of marriage and inheritance laws and boldly advances the privileges of the clergy. The fact that it was very widely distributed and applied to the living problems in the East, in the territory between Armenia and Egypt, as evidenced by the numerous versions of the lawbook as well as by the borrowings from it found in many Syriac and Arabic works of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, shows the continuing predominance of the native tongues. Later, when Justinian’s legislation became officially obligatory upon the whole Empire, his code proved to be too bulky and difficult of comprehension for the eastern provinces, so that in actual practice they continued to use the Syriac lawbook as a substitute for the codex. In the seventh century, following the Moslem conquest of the eastern provinces, the same Syriac lawbook was in wide use even under the Moslem domination. The fact that this lawbook was translated into Syriac as early as the second half of the fifth century indicates clearly that the mass of the people were still unacquainted with Greek or Latin and clung strongly to the native Syriac tongue.
In Egypt also, in spite of the proximity of Alexandria, the very center of world culture, Hellenism spread among the higher class only, among the people prominent in the social and religious life of the province. The mass of the people continued to speak their native Egyptian (Coptic) language.
The central government found it difficult to manage the affairs of the eastern provinces, not only because of the racially varied composition of the population, but also because the great majority of the population of Syria and Egypt and a certain part of eastern Asia Minor firmly held to Arianism with its subsequent ramifications. The complex racial problem became further complicated in the fifth century by important new developments in the religious life of these provinces.
In the western provinces of the Eastern Empire, that is in the Balkan peninsula, in the capital, and the western part of Asia Minor, the important problem of this period was that of Germanic power, which threatened the very existence of the Empire. After this problem was settled favorably for the government in the middle of the fifth century it seemed for a while that the savage Isaurians would occupy in the capital a commanding position similar to that of the Goths. In the East the struggle with the Persians continued, while in the northern part of the Balkan peninsula the Bulgarians, a people of Hunnic (Turkish) origin, and the Slavs began their devastating attacks.
Arcadius was only seventeen when he ascended the throne. He possessed neither the experience nor the force of will necessary for his high position, and he soon found himself completely overruled by his favorites, who directed the affairs of the Empire in a manner satisfactory to their own interests and the interests of their respective parties. The first influential favorite was Rufinus, appointed during Theodosius’ lifetime as general guide of Arcadius. Rufinus was soon murdered and two years later the eunuch Eutropius exerted the greatest influence upon the Emperor. The rapid rise of this new favorite was due primarily to his success in arranging the marriage of Arcadius and Eudoxia, the daughter of a Frank who served as an officer in the Roman army. Honorius, the younger brother of Arcadius, had been placed by his father under the guidance of the gifted chief, Stilicho, a true example of a Romanized Germanic barbarian, who had rendered great service to the Empire during its struggle with his own people.
The settlement of the Gothic problem. — The central issue for the government in the time of Arcadius was the Germanic problem. The Visigoths, who had settled during an earlier period in the northern part of the Balkan peninsula, were now headed by a new and ambitious chief, Alaric Balta. At the beginning of the reign of Arcadius, Alaric set out with his people for Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia, threatening even the capital. The diplomatic intervention of Rufinus brought about a change in Alaric’s original plan for attacking Constantinople. The attention of the Goths was directed to Greece. Alaric crossed Thessaly and advanced into Middle Greece by way of Thermopylae.
The population of Greece at that period was almost purely Greek and, on the whole, almost the same as Pausanias and Plutarch had known it. According to Gregorovius, the old language, religion, customs, and laws of the forefathers remained almost unchanged in the towns and villages. And in spite of the fact that Christianity had been officially pronounced the dominant religion, and the worship of the gods, condemned and forbidden by the state, was doomed to die out, ancient Greece still bore the spiritual and artistic impress of paganism, mainly because of the preservation of the monuments of antiquity.
In their march through Greece the Goths pillaged and devastated Boeotia and Attica. The Athenian harbor, Peiraeus, was in their hands; fortunately they spared Athens. The pagan historian of the fifth century, Zosimus, narrated the legend of how Alaric, upon surrounding the Athenian walls with his army, beheld the goddess Athena Promachos in armor and the Trojan hero Achilles standing before the wall. So greatly astonished was Alaric by this apparition that he abandoned the idea of attacking Athens. The Peloponnesus suffered greatly from the Gothic invasion, for the Visigoths sacked Corinth, Argos, Sparta, and several other cities. Stilicho undertook to defend Greece and landed with his troops in the Gulf of Corinth on the Isthmus, thus cutting off Alaric’s way back through Middle Greece. Alaric then pushed his way to the north into Epirus with great effort and against many difficulties. The Emperor Arcadius apparently was not ashamed to honor the man who had devastated the Greek provinces of the Empire with the military title of Master of Soldiers in Illyricum (Magister mihtum per Illyricum). After this Alaric ceased to threaten the eastern part of the Empire and directed his main attention to Italy.
In addition to the menace of the Goths in the Balkan peninsula and in Greece, the prevailing Gothic influence since the time of Theodosius the Great was felt particularly in the capital, where the most responsible army posts and many of the important administrative positions were in Germanic hands.
When Arcadius ascended the throne the most influential party in the capital was the Germanic party, headed by one of the outstanding generals of the imperial army, the Goth Gaïnas. About him were gathered soldiers of Gothic origin and representatives of the local pro-Germanic movement. The weakness of this party lay in the fact that the majority of the Goths were Arians. Second in strength, during the first years of Arcadius’ reign, was the party of the powerful eunuch, the favorite Eutropius. He was supported by various ambitious flatterers who were interested in him only because he was able to help them to promote their greedy personal interests. Gaïnas and Eutropius could not live side by side in peace, since they were competing for power. Besides these two political parties, historians speak of a third party, hostile to the Germans as well as to Eutropius; its membership included senators, ministers, and the majority of the clergy. This party represented the nationalist and religious ideology in opposition to the growing foreign and barbaric influence. This movement, naturally, refused to lend its support to the coarse and grasping Eutropius. The party’s main leader was the city prefect, Aurelian.
Many people of the time were aware of the menace of Germanic dominance, and ultimately the government itself became conscious of it. A remarkable document has been preserved which describes vividly the reaction of certain social groups to the Germanic question. This document is the address of Synesius on “The Emperor’s Power,” or, as it is sometimes translated, “Concerning the Office of King,” which was presented, or perhaps even read, to Arcadius. Synesius, a native of the North African city of Cyrene, was an educated neo-Platonist who adopted Christianity, In the year 399 A.D. he set out for Constantinople to petition the Emperor for the remission of the taxes of his native city. Later, upon his return home, he was chosen bishop of the North African Ptolemaïs. During his three years’ stay at Constantinople, Synesius came to see very clearly the German menace to the Empire, and he composed the address, which, according to one historian, may be called the anti-German manifesto of the national party of Aurelian. Synesius cautioned the Emperor:
The least pretext will be used by the armed [barbarians] to assume power and become the rulers of the citizens. And then the unarmed will have to fight with men well exercised in military combats. First of all, they [the foreigners] should be removed from commanding positions and deprived of senatorial rank; for what the Romans in ancient times considered of highest esteem has become dishonorable because of the influence o£ the foreigners. As in many other matters, so in this one, I am astonished at our folly. In every more or less prosperous home we find a Scythian [Goth] slave; they serve as cooks and cupbearers; also those who walk along the street with little chairs on their backs and offer them to people who wish to rest in the open, are Scythians. But is it not exceedingly surprising that the very same light-haired barbarians with Euboic headdress, who in private life perform the function of servants, are our rulers in political life? The Emperor should purify the troops just as we purify a measure of wheat by separating the chaff and all other matter, which, if allowed to germinate, harms the good seed. Your father, because of his excessive compassion, received them [the barbarians] kindly and condescendingly, gave them the rank of allies, conferred upon them political rights and honors, and endowed them with generous grants of land. But not as an act of kindness did these barbarians understand these noble deeds; they interpreted them as a sign of our weakness, which caused them to feel more haughty and conceited. By increasing the number of our native recruits and thus strengthening our own army and our courage, you must accomplish in the Empire the things which still need to be done. Persistence must be shown in dealing with these people. Either let these barbarians till the soil following the example of the ancient Messenians, who put down their arms and toiled as slaves for the Lacedaemonians, or let them go by the road they came, announcing to those who live on the other side of the river [Danube] that the Romans have no more kindness in them and that they are ruled by a noble youth!
What Synesius advocated, then, in the face of the Germanic menace to the government, was the expulsion of the Goths from the army, the formation of an indigenous army, and the establishment of the Goths as tillers of the soil. Should the Goths be unwilling to accept this program, Synesius suggested that the Romans should clear their territory of Goths by driving them back across the Danube, the place from which they originally came.
The most influential general in the imperial army, the Goth Gaïnas, could not view calmly the exclusive influence of the favorite, Eutropius, and an opportunity to act soon arose. At this time the Goths of Phrygia, who had been settled in this province of Asia Minor by Theodosius the Great, had risen in rebellion and were devastating the country under the leadership of their chief, Tribigild. Gaïnas, sent out against this dangerous rebel, later proved to be his secret ally. Joining hands with Tribigild, he deliberately arranged the defeat of the imperial troops sent out to suppress the revolt, and the two Goths became masters of the situation. They then presented to the Emperor a demand that Eutropius be removed and delivered into their hands. Complaints against Eutropius were coming from Eudoxia, the wife of Arcadius, and from the party of Aurclian. Arcadius, pressed by the success of the Germans, was forced to yield. He sent Eutropius into exile (399 A.D.). But this did not satisfy the victorious Goths. They compelled the Emperor to bring Eutropius back to the capital and to have him tried and executed. This accomplished, Gaïnas demanded that the Emperor allow the Arian Goths to use one of the temples of the capital city for Arian services, A strong protest against this request came from the bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (“the Golden-Mouthed”). Knowing that not only the entire capital but also the majority of the population of the Empire sided with the bishop, Gaïnas did not insist on this demand.
After gaining a stronghold in the capital, the Goths became complete masters of the fate of the Empire. Arcadius and the natives of the capital were fully aware of the danger of the situation. But Gaïnas, in spite of all his success, proved himself incapable of keeping his dominant position in Constantinople. While he was away from the capital a sudden revolt broke out in which many Goths were killed and he was unable to return to the capital. Arcadius, encouraged by the new course of events, sent against Gaïnas his loyal pagan Goth, Fravitta, who defeated Gaïnas at the time when he tried to sail across to Asia Minor. Gaïnas tried to find refuge in Thrace, but there he fell into the hands of the king of the Huns, who cut off his head and sent it as a gift to Arcadius. Thus the Gothic menace was warded off through the efforts of a German, Fravitta, who was designated consul for this great service to the Empire. The Gothic problem at the beginning of the fifth century was finally settled in favor of the government. Eater efforts of the Goths to restore their former influence were of no great importance.
St. John Chrysostom. — Against the background of Germanic complications appeared the significant figure of the patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom. He was born in Antioch and studied with the famous rhetorician, Libanius, intending to follow a worldly career. He later forsook this idea and after his baptism devoted himself completely to preaching in Antioch, where he remained for a number of years as a presbyter. After the death of the patriarch Nectarius, Eutropius chose this preacher of Antioch, whose fame was already widespread, as the new patriarch. He was transported to the capital secretly for fear that the population of Antioch, devoted to their preacher, might oppose his departure. In spite of the intrigues of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, John was consecrated bishop and given the see of the capital in the year 398. Thus the episcopal throne came into the hands of a man unusually accomplished in the art of oratory, an idealist whose actions were always in harmony with his theories, and an advocate of very severe moral principles. As a ruthless opponent of superfluous luxury and a firm defender of Nicene doctrines, John made many enemies among his flock. One of his most dangerous enemies was Empress Eudoxia, a lover of luxury and pleasure, whom John publicly denounced in his addresses. In his sermons he went so far as to compare her with Jezebel and Herodias. His harsh policy toward the Arian Goths also earned him many enemies; it was he who strongly opposed the granting of one of the large churches of the capital to the Goths for their services. The Goths later became reconciled to the Emperor’s refusal, however, and continued to use the church allotted to them outside the city gates. John was very considerate of the orthodox Goths. He gave them one of the city churches, visited it very often, and held frequent conferences with them through an interpreter.
John’s earnest religious ideals, his unwillingness to compromise with anyone, and his harsh criticism of luxury gradually increased the number of his enemies. The Emperor himself soon fell under the influence of those who were opposed to the patriarch and openly expressed himself against John, This open opposition caused John to retire to Asia Minor, but the unrest among the masses in the capital which followed the departure of the beloved Patriarch forced the Emperor to recall him from exile. The new peace between the state and the Patriarch did not last very long, however. The inaugural ceremonies at the dedication of the statue to the Empress furnished a new occasion for a fiery speech in which John denounced the vices of the Empress. He was again deposed, and his followers, the Johannites, were severely persecuted. Finally, in the year 404, John was exiled to the Cappadocian city Cucusus, which he reached only after a long and strenuous journey, a city which he described as “the most deserted place in the universe.” Three years later he was sent to a new place of exile on the distant eastern shore of the Black Sea, and he died on the journey. Thus ended the life of one of the most remarkable leaders of the eastern church in the early Middle Ages. The pope and the Emperor of the West, Honorius, had both interceded in an attempt to stop the persecutions of John and the Johannites, but without success.
John left a rich literary treasure, containing a vivid picture of the social and religious life of his period. Personally he was one of the very few men who did not fear to speak out openly against the Arian pretensions of the all-powerful Gaïnas and he defended with conviction and steadiness the ideals of the apostolic church. He has been called one of the most beautiful moral examples humanity has ever had. “He was merciless to sin and full of mercy for the sinner.”
Arcadius died in the year 408, when his wife, Eudoxia, was already dead and his son and successor, Theodosius, was only seven years old.
Theodosius II, the Younger (408-50).
According to some sources, Arcadius left a testament in which he appointed as guardian for his young successor the Persian king, Yezdegerd I, because he feared that the favorites at Constantinople might deprive Theodosius of the throne. The king of Persia devotedly fulfilled the office conferred upon him, and through one of his own loyal men he guarded Theodosius against the intrigues of the courtiers. Many scholars deny the authenticity of this story, but there is nothing intrinsically implausible about it, since similar instances occur in other periods of history, there seems to be no good reason for rejecting it.
The harmonious relations between the two empires explain the unusually favorable position of Christianity in Persia during the reign of Yezdegerd I. The Persian tradition, which reflects the state of mind of the Magi and nobles, calls Yezdegerd “the Apostate,” “the Wicked,” the friend of Rome and the Christians, and the persecutor of the Magi. But Christian sources praise him for his goodness, mildness, and munificence and at times claim that he was even at the point of becoming converted to Christianity. In reality, however, Yezdegerd I, like Constantine the Great, appreciated how important the Christian element in his empire was to his political plans. In 409 he formally granted permission to the Christians to worship openly and to restore their churches. Some historians call this decree the Edict of Milan for the Assyrian Christian church.
In 410 a council met at Seleucia at which the Christian church in Persia was organized. The bishop of Seleucia (Ctesiphon) was elected head of the church. He was given the title of “Catholicos,” and was to reside in the capital of the Persian Empire. The members of the council made the following declaration: “We all unanimously implore our Merciful God that He increase the days of the victorious and illustrious king Yezdegerd, King of Kings, and that his years be prolonged for generations of generations and for ages of ages,” The Christians did not enjoy complete freedom for long. Persecutions were renewed within the later years of Yezdegerd’s reign.
Theodosius II was not a gifted statesman, nor was he particularly interested in matters of government. Throughout his long reign he kept aloof from the actual affairs of government and led a solitary monastic life. Devoting most of his time to calligraphy, he copied many old manuscripts in his very beautiful handwriting. But around Theodosius were very able and energetic people who contributed much to crowning his period with such important events in the internal life of the Empire that historians no longer look upon Theodosius as a weak and ill-fated emperor. One of the most influential persons during the reign of Theodosius was his sister, Pulcheria. It was she who arranged the marriage of Theodosius and Athenais (later baptized Eudocia), the daughter of an Athenian philosopher and a woman of high cultural attainment and some literary genius. Eudocia wrote a number of works, treating chiefly of religious topics, but reflecting also some contemporary political events.
In external struggles the eastern half of the Empire was more fortunate than the western half during the period of Theodosius II. No strenuous campaign had to be organized in the East, but the West was going through a very severe crisis because of the German migrations. The most terrific shock to the Romans was the entrance into Rome, former capital of the pagan Roman Empire, of the commander of the Visigoths, Alaric. Shortly afterwards the barbarians formed their first kingdoms on Roman territory in western Europe and northern Africa. The eastern part of the Empire was for a time endangered by the Huns, who attacked Byzantine territory and raided almost as far as the walls of Constantinople. Before friendly relations were established, the Emperor was forced to pay them a large sum of money and cede the territory south of the Danube. Later, however, an embassy headed by Maximin was sent from Constantinople to Pannonia. His friend, Priscus, who accompanied him, wrote an extremely important and full account of the embassy, describing the court of Attila and many of the customs and manners of the Huns. This description is particularly valuable for the light it throws not only on the Huns but also on the Slavs of the Middle Danube whom the Huns had conquered.
Theological disputes and the Third Ecumenical Council
The first two ecumenical councils definitely settled the question that Jesus Christ is both God and man. But this decision fell short of satisfying the probing theological minds haunted by the problem of how the union of the divine substance of Jesus Christ with his human nature was to be conceived. In Antioch at the end of the fourth century originated the teaching that there was no complete union of the two natures in Christ. In its further developments this teaching attempted to prove the absolute independence of Christ’s human nature both before and after its union with the divine nature. As long as this doctrine remained within the confines of a limited circle of men it did not cause any serious disturbance in the church. But with the passing of the patriarchal throne of Constantinople to the Antiochene presbyter Nestorius, an ardent follower of this new teaching, conditions changed considerably, for he imposed the teaching of Antioch upon the church. Famous for his eloquence, he addressed the Emperor immediately after his consecration: “Give me, my prince, the earth purged of heretics, and I will give you heaven as a recompense. Assist me in destroying heretics, and I will assist you in vanquishing the Persians,” By heretics Nestorius meant all those who did not share his views on the independence of the human nature in Jesus Christ. Nestorius’ name for the Virgin Mary was not the “Mother of God” but the “Mother of Christ,” the “Mother of a man.”
Nestorius’ persecutions of his opponents aroused a great storm in the church. Particularly strong was the protest by the Alexandrian patriarch, Cyril, and Pope Celestine, who condemned the new heretical teaching at a council gathered in Rome. Theodosius, wishing to put an end to these church disputes, convoked at Ephesus the Third Ecumenical Council, which condemned the Nestorian doctrine in the year 431. Nestorius was exiled to Egypt where he spent the remainder of his life.
The condemnation of Nestorianism did not end it; there still remained numerous followers of this teaching in Syria and Mesopotamia and the Emperor ordered the administration of these provinces to take severe measures against them. The main center of Nestorianism was Edessa, the home of the famous school which spread the ideas of Antioch. In the year 489, during the reign of Zeno, this school was destroyed and the teachers and pupils were driven out of the city. They went to Persia and founded a new school at Nisibis. The king of Persia gladly admitted the Nestorians and offered them his protection, for, since he considered them enemies of the Empire, he counted on using them to his advantage when an opportunity arose. The Persian church of the Nestorian or Syro-Chaldean Christians, was headed by a bishop who bore the title of Catholicos. From Persia, Christianity in its Nestorian form spread widely into central Asia and was accepted by a considerable number of followers in India.
The Council of Ephesus was followed in the Byzantine church itself, and in Alexandria in particular, by the development of new movements in opposition to Nestorianism. The followers of Cyril of Alexandria, while they believed in the preponderance of the divine nature over the human in Jesus Christ, arrived at the conclusion that the human was completely absorbed by the divine substance; hence Jesus Christ possessed but one—divine—nature. This new teaching was called Monophysitism, or the Monophysitic doctrine, and its followers are known as the Monophysites (from the Greek μονος, “one,” and φυσις, “nature”). Monophysitism made great progress with the aid of two ardent Monophysites, the Alexandrian bishop Dioscorus, and Eutyches, the archimandrite of a monastery in Constantinople. The Emperor sided with Dioscorus, whom he considered an advocate of the ideas of Cyril of Alexandria. The new teaching was opposed by the patriarch of Constantinople and by Pope Leo I the Great. Dioscorus then urged the Emperor to call a council in the year 449 at Ephesus, which is known as the “Robber Council.” The Alexandrian party of Monophysites headed by Dioscorus, who presided at the council, forced members of the council who did not agree with them to recognize the teaching of Eutyches (Monophysitism) as orthodox and to condemn the opponents of the new doctrine. The Emperor ratified the decisions of the council, officially recognizing it as an ecumenical council. Naturally the council failed to establish harmony in the church. A period of stormy disturbances followed, during which Theodosius died, leaving to his successors the solution of the problem of Monophysitism, highly important in Byzantine history.
Besides the stormy and significant religious events of the period of Theodosius there were a number of events in the internal life of the Empire which marked this epoch as historically important.
The higher school at Constantinople. — The organization of the higher school at Constantinople and the publication of the Theodosian Code, which took place during the reign of Theodosius, were both of great significance in the life of the Byzantine Empire.
Until the fifth century the city of Athens, the home of the famous philosophical school, was the main center of pagan teaching in the Roman Empire. Greek teachers of rhetoric and philosophy, better known as the sophists, came there from all parts of the Empire, some to display their knowledge and oratorical eloquence, others in hopes of obtaining good positions in the teaching profession. These teachers were supported partly from the imperial treasury, partly from the treasuries of the various cities. Tutoring and lecturing were also better paid in Athens than elsewhere. The triumph of Christianity at the end of the fourth century dealt the Athenian school a heavy blow, and intellectual life there was also greatly affected at the very close of the century by the devastating advances of the Visigoths into Greece. Even after the departure of Alaric and the Visigoths, the Athenian school did not rise to its former position; the number of philosophers was greatly decreased. Most severe of all was the blow dealt the Athenian pagan school by the organization of the higher school, or university, in Constantinople.
When Constantinople became the capital of the Empire, many rhetoricians and philosophers came to the new city, so that even before Theodosius II a kind of high school may have existed there. Teachers and scholars were invited to Constantinople from Africa, Syria, and other places. St. Hieronymus remarked in his Chronicle (360-62 A.D): “Euanthius, the most learned grammarian, died at Constantinople, and in his place Charisius was brought from Africa.” Accordingly a recent student of the problems of the higher schools in Constantinople in the Middle Ages says that under Theodosius II the higher school was not founded but reorganized. In the year 425 Theodosius II issued a decree dealing with the organization of a higher school.” There were to be thirty-one professors teaching grammar, rhetoric, jurisprudence, and philosophy. Three rhetors (oratores) and ten grammarians were to conduct their teaching in Latin, and five rhetors or sophists (sofistae) and ten grammarians were to teach in Greek. In addition to this the decree provided for one chair for philosophy and two chairs for jurisprudence. While Latin still remained the official language of the Empire, the foundation of Greek chairs at the University indicates that the Emperor was beginning to see that in the new capital Greek had undeniable rights as the language most spoken and understood in the eastern part of the Empire. The number of Greek rhetors exceeded the number of Latin rhetors by two. The new higher school was given a separate building with large lecture rooms and auditoriums. The professors were forbidden to tutor anyone privately in their homes; they were to devote all their time and effort to teaching at the school. They were provided with a definite salary from the imperial exchequer and could advance to very high rank. This educational center at Constantinople became a dangerous rival of the Athenian pagan school, which was steadily declining. In the subsequent history of the Byzantine Empire the higher school of Theodosius II long stood as the center about which were assembled the best cultural forces of the Empire.
Codex Theodosianus.— From the period of Theodosius II also dates the oldest collection of decrees of Roman emperors which has been preserved. For a long time such a collection had been needed because the numerous separate decrees were easily forgotten and lost, thus introducing much confusion into the juridical practices of the day and creating many difficult situations for the jurists. There were two earlier collections of decrees, the Gregorian and the Hermogenian codes (Codex Gregorianus and Codex Hermogenianus), named perhaps after their authors, Gregory and Hermogenes, about whom little is known. The first collection dates back to the epoch of Diocletian and probably contained decrees from the period of Hadrian to that of Diocletian. The second collection, compiled during the reign of the successors of Diocletian in the fourth century, contained decrees dating from the late third century to the sixth decade of the fourth century. Neither of the two collections has survived; both are known only through the small fragments which have been preserved.
Theodosius’ idea was to issue a collection of laws modeled after the two earlier collections. It was to contain decrees issued by the Christian emperors from Constantine the Great to Theodosius II, inclusive. The commission appointed by the Emperor produced, after eight years’ work, the so-called Codex Theodosianus, in Latin. It was published in the year 438 in the East and shortly afterwards it was introduced in the western part of the Empire. The code of Theodosius is divided into sixteen books, which in turn are subdivided into a definite number of titles (tituli). Each book treats of some phase of government, such as offices, military affairs, religious life. In each title the decrees are arranged in chronological order. The decrees which appeared after the publication of the code were called novels (leges novellae).
The code of Theodosius is of very great historical importance. First, it is the most valuable source on the internal history of the fourth and fifth centuries. Since it also embraces the period when Christianity became the state religion, this legal collection may be considered as a sort of summary of what the new religion accomplished in the field of law and what changes it brought about in juridical practices. Furthermore, this code, together with the earlier collections, formed a solid foundation for the subsequent juridical activities of Justinian. Finally, the code of Theodosius, introduced in the West during the period of Germanic migrations, together with the two earlier codes, later novels, and a few other juridical monuments of imperial Rome (the Institutions of Gaius, for example), exerted great influence, both direct and indirect, upon barbarian legislation. The famous “Roman Law of the Visigoths” (Lex Romana Visithorum), intended for the Roman subjects of the Visigothic kingdom, is nothing more than an abridgment of the Theodosian code and the other sources mentioned. It is for this reason that the “Roman Law of the Visigoths” is also called the “Breviary of Alaric” (Breviarium Alaricianum) that is, an abridgment issued by the Visigoth king, Alaric II, in the early part of the sixth century. This is an instance of direct influence exerted by the code of Theodosius upon barbarian legislation. But stilt more frequent was its indirect influence through the Visigoth code. During the early Middle Ages, including the epoch of Charlemagne, western European legislation was influenced by the Breviarium, which became the chief source of Roman law in the West. This indicates clearly that Roman law at that period influenced western Europe but not through the code of Justinian, which spread in the West much later, sometime during the twelfth century. This fact is sometimes overlooked by scholars; and even such a distinguished historian as Fustel de Coulanges stated that “science has proved that Justinian’s collections of laws maintained their force in Gaul late into the Middle Ages.” The influence of the code went still further, for the Breviarium of Alaric has apparently played some part in the history of Bulgaria. At least it is the opinion of the famous Croatian scholar, Bogišič, whose arguments were later developed and confirmed by the Bulgarian scholar, Bobtchev, that the Breviarium Alaricianum was sent by Pope Nicholas I to the Bulgarian king Boris, after he had petitioned the pope in the year 866 to send to Bulgaria “the mundane laws” (leges mundanae). In answer to this demand the pope, in his “Responses to the Consults of the Bulgarians” (Responsa papae Nicolai ad consulta Bulgarorum), announced that he was sending them the “venerable laws of the Romans” (venerandae Romanorum leges), which Bogišič and Bobtchev considered to be the breviary of Alaric. Even if this be so, the value of this code in the life of the ancient Bulgarians should not be exaggerated, because only a few years later Boris broke away from the Roman curia and drew nearer to Constantinople. But the mere fact that the pope sent the Breviarium may indicate its significance in European life during the ninth century. All these instances show clearly the great and widespread influence of the Codex Theodosianus.
The walls of Constantinople. — Among the important events of the time of Theodosius was the construction of the walls of Constantinople. Constantine the Great had surrounded the new capital with a wall. By the time of Theodosius II the city had far outgrown the limits of this wall. It became necessary to devise new means for the defense of the city against the attacks of enemies. The fate of Rome, taken by Alaric in the year 410, became a serious warning for Constantinople, since it too was menaced in the first. half of the fifth century by the savage Huns.
The solution of this very difficult problem was undertaken by some of the gifted and energetic men of Theodosius’ court. The walls were built in two shifts. In 413, during the early childhood of Theodosius, the praetorian prefect, Anthemius, who was at that time regent, erected a wall with numerous towers which extended from the Sea of Marmora to the Golden Horn, somewhat to the west of Constantine’s wall. This new wall of Anthemius, which saved the capital from the attack of Attila, exists even today north of the Sea of Marmora as far as the ruins of the Byzantine palace known as the Tekfour Serai. After a violent earthquake which destroyed the wall, the praetorian prefect Constantine repaired it and also built around it another wall with many towers and surrounded with a deep ditch filled with water. Thus, on land, Constantinople had a threefold series of defenses, the two walls separated by a terrace and the deep ditch which surrounded the outer wall. Under the administration of Cyrus, prefect of the city, new walls were also constructed along the seashore. The two inscriptions on the walls dating back to this period, one Greek and the other Latin, speak of the building activities of Theodosius. They are still legible today. The name of Cyrus is also associated with the introduction of night illumination of the streets in the capital.
Theodosius II died in the year 450. In spite of his weakness and lack of ability as a statesman, his long reign was very significant for subsequent history, especially from the cultural point of view. By a lucky choice of responsible officials, Theodosius succeeded in accomplishing great results. The higher school of Constantinople and the code of Theodosius still remain splendid monuments of the cultural movement in the first half of the fifth century. The city walls built during this period made Constantinople impregnable for many centuries to the enemies of the Byzantine Empire. N, H. Baynes remarked, “In some sense the walls of Constantinople represented for the East the gun and gunpowder, for lack of which the Empire in the West perished.”
Marcian (450-57) and Leo I (457-74); Aspar.
Thedosius died leaving no heir. His aged sister Pulcheria agreed to become the nominal wife of Marcian, a Thracian by birth, who was later proclaimed Emperor. Marcian was a very capable but modest soldier and rose to the throne only because of the entreaties of the influential general Aspar, of Alan descent.
The Gothic problem, which became a real menace to the state at the end of the fourth, and early part of the fifth century, was settled during the time of Arcadius in favor of the government. However, the Gothic element in the Byzantine army continued to be an influence in the Empire, though in a very reduced measure, and in the middle of the fifth century the barbarian Aspar, supported by the Goths, made a final effort to restore the former power of the Goths. He was successful for a while. Two emperors, Marcian and Leo I, were raised to the throne by the efforts of Aspar, whose Arian leanings were the only obstacle to his own accession to the throne. Once more the capital openly began to express its discontent with Aspar, his family, and the barbarian influence in the army in general. Two events aggravated the tension between the Goths and the population of the capital. The sea expedition to northern Africa against the Vandals, which Leo I undertook with great expenditure of money and effort, proved a complete failure. The population accused Aspar of treason because he had originally opposed it, naturally enough, since the purpose was to crush the Vandals, that is, the Germans. Aspar then obtained from Leo the rank of Caesar for his son, the highest rank in the Empire. The Emperor decided to free himself of Germanic power and with the aid of a number of warlike Isaurians quartered in the capital killed Aspar and part of his family, dealing a final blow to Germanic influence at the court of Constantinople. For these murders Leo I received from his contemporaries the name of Makelles, that is, “Butcher,” but the historian Th. I. Uspensky affirmed that this alone may justify the surname “Great” sometimes given Leo, since it was a significant step in the direction of nationalizing the army and weakening the dominance of barbarian troops.”
The Huns, who constituted so great a menace to the Empire, moved at the beginning of Marcian’s reign from the middle Danube to the western provinces of the Empire, where they later fought the famous Catalaunian battle. Shortly afterwards Attila died. His enormous empire fell to ruin so that the Hunnic danger to the Byzantine Empire disappeared in the latter years of Marcian’s reign.
The Fourth Ecumenical Council
Marcian inherited from his predecessor a very complicated state of affairs in the church. The Monophysites were now triumphant. Marcian, favoring the stand taken by the first two ecumenical councils, could not become reconciled to this triumph, and in the year 451 he called the Fourth Ecumenical Council, at Chalcedon, which proved to be of great importance for all subsequent history. The number of delegates to this council was very large and included legates representing the pope.
The council condemned the acts of the Robber Council of Ephesus and deposed Dioscorus. Then it worked out a new religious formula completely rejecting the doctrine of the Monophysites and wholly according with the views of the Pope of Rome. The Council affirmed “one and the same Christ in two natures without confusion or change, division or separation.” The dogmas approved by this Council of Chalcedon, triumphantly confirming the main doctrines of the first ecumenical councils, became the basis of the religious teachings of the orthodox church.
The decisions of the Council of Chalcedon were also of great political significance in Byzantine history. The Byzantine government, by openly opposing Monophysitism in the fifth century, alienated the eastern provinces, Syria and Egypt, where the majority of the population was Monophysitic. The Monophysites remained true to their religious doctrine even after the condemnations of the council of 451 and were unwilling to make any compromises. The Egyptian church abolished the use of Greek in its services and introduced the native Egyptian (Coptic) language. The religious disturbances in Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch caused by the forced introduction of the decisions of the council assumed the character of serious national revolts and were suppressed by the civil and military authorities only after much bloodshed. The suppression of these revolts, however, did not settle the fundamental problems of the period. Against the background of the conflicting religious disputes, which became more and more acute, clearly defined racial contradictions, particularly in Syria and Egypt, began to appear. The Egyptian and Syrian native populations were gradually becoming convinced of the desirability of seceding from the Byzantine Empire. The religious disturbances in the eastern provinces, aided by the composition of the population, created toward the seventh century conditions which facilitated the transfer of these rich and civilized districts into the hands of first the Persians and later the Arabs.
The twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Chalcedon, which called forth a correspondence between the Emperor and the pope, was also of great importance. Although not confirmed by the pope, this canon was generally accepted in the East. It raised the question of the rank of the patriarch of Constantinople in relation to the Pope of Rome, a question already decided by the third canon of the Second Ecumenical Council. Following this decision, the twenty-eighth canon of the Chalcedon council gave “equal privileges to the most holy throne of New Rome, rightly judging that the city which is honored with the Sovereignty and the Senate and enjoys equal privileges with the old Imperial Rome should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her.” Furthermore, the same canon granted the archbishop of Constantinople the right to ordain bishops for the provinces of Pontus, Asia, and Thrace, inhabited by people of various tribes. “It is sufficient to recall,” said Th. I. Uspensky, “that these three names embraced all the Christian missions in the East, in southern Russia, and in the Balkan peninsula, as well as all those acquisitions of the eastern clergy which could eventually be made in the indicated districts. At least, this is the opinion of later Greek canonists who defended the rights of the Constantinopolitan patriarch. Such, in brief, is the universal historical significance of the twenty-eighth canon.” Both Marcian and Leo I, then, were emperors of strict orthodox mind.
Zeno (474-91). Odovacar and Theodoric the Ostrogoth.
After the death of Leo I (474) the throne passed to his six-year-old grandson, Leo, who died in the same year, after conferring the imperial rank upon his father, Zeno. Following the death of his son, Zeno became sole emperor (474-91). His accession to the throne marks the supplanting of the former Germanic influence at the court by a new barbarian influence, that of the Isaurians, a savage race of which he was a member. The Isaurians now occupied the best positions and most responsible posts in the capital. Very soon Zeno became aware that even among his own people men were plotting against him, and he showed much determination in quelling the revolt in mountainous Isauria, ordering the inhabitants to pull down the greater part of their fortifications. The dominance of Isaurians in the Empire continued, however, throughout Zeno’s lifetime.
During the period of Zeno’s reign very significant events took place in Italy. In the second half of the fifth century the importance of the leaders of German troops increased very greatly until their will was almost decisive in making and deposing Roman emperors in the West. In the year 476 one of these barbarian chiefs; Odovacar, deposed the last western emperor, the young Romulus Augustulus, and himself became the ruler of Italy. In order to make his rule in Italy more secure, he sent ambassadors to Zeno from the Roman Senate with the assurance that Italy needed no separate emperor and that Zeno might be the ruler of the entire Empire. At the same time Odovacar asked Zeno to confer upon him the rank of Roman patrician and to entrust to him the administration of Italy. This request was granted and Odovacar became the legally appointed ruler of Italy. The year 476 formerly was considered the year of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, but this is not correct, because in the fifth century there was still no separate Western Roman Empire. There was, as before, one Roman Empire ruled by two emperors, one in the eastern, the other in the western, part. In the year 476 there was again only one emperor in the Empire, namely Zeno, the ruler of the eastern part.
Upon becoming the ruler of Italy, Odovacar assumed an attitude of marked independence. Zeno was fully aware of it; unable to struggle against Odovacar openly, he decided to act through the Ostrogoths. The latter, after the collapse of the power of Attila, remained in Pannonia and, under the leadership of their king, Theodoric, carried on devastating raids in the Balkan peninsula, menacing even the capital of the Empire. Zeno succeeded in directing the attention of Theodoric to the rich provinces of Italy, thus attaining a double aim: He got rid of his dangerous northern neighbors and settled his disagreements with the undesirable ruler of Italy through the efforts of an outside party. In any event, Theodoric in Italy was less of a menace to Zeno than he would have been had he remained in the Balkan peninsula.
Theodoric moved on to Italy, defeated Odovacar, seized his principal city, Ravenna, and after Zeno’s death, founded his Ostrogothic kingdom on Italian territory with the capital at Ravenna. The Balkan peninsula was thus definitely freed from the Ostrogothic menace.
The main internal problem during the reign of Zeno was the religious problem, which continued to cause many disturbances. In Egypt and Syria and to some extent in Palestine and Asia Minor, the population held firmly to the doctrine of one nature. The firm orthodox policy of the two emperors who preceded Zeno was little applauded in the eastern provinces. The leaders of the church were fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, who at first favored the decisions of Chalcedon, and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Peter Mongus, were particularly anxious to find some way of reconciling the dissenting parties in the church. They proposed to Zeno that he attempt to reach some mutual agreement by means of compromises on both sides. Zeno accepted this proposal and issued in 482 the Act of Union, or the Henoticon (ενωτικον), addressed to the churches subject to the Patriarch of Alexandria. In this act he tried above all to avoid any sign of disrespect toward either the orthodox or the Monophysitic teachings on the union in Jesus Christ of two natures, the divine and the human. The Henoticon recognized as entirely sufficient the religious foundations developed at the first and second ecumenical councils and ratified at the third council; it anathematized Nestorius and Eutyches, as well as all their followers, and stated that Jesus Christ was “of the same nature with the Father in the Godhead and also of the same nature with us in the manhood.” Yet it obviously avoided the use of the phrases “one nature” or “two natures” and did not mention the statement of the Council of Chalcedon in regard to the union of two natures in Christ. The Council of Chalcedon is mentioned in the Henoticon only once, in this statement: “And here we anathematize all who have held, or hold now or at any time, whether in Chalcedon or in any other synod whatsoever, any different belief.”
At first the Henoticon seemed to improve conditions in Alexandria, but in the long run it failed to satisfy either the orthodox or the Monophysites. The former could not become reconciled to the concessions made to the Monophysites; the latter, in view of the lack of clarity in the statements of the Henoticon, considered the concessions insufficient, and new complications were thus introduced into the religious life of the Byzantine Empire. The number of religious parties increased. Part of the clergy favored the idea of reconciliation and supported the Act of Union, while the extremists in both the orthodox and the Monophysitic movements were unwilling to make any compromise. These firmly orthodox men were called the Akoimetoi, that is “the Sleepless,” because the services in their monasteries were held continuously during the day and night, so that they had to divide their groups into three relays; the extreme Monophysites were called the Akephaloi, that is “the Headless,” because they did not recognize the leadership of the Alexandrian Patriarch, who accepted the Henoticon. The Pope of Rome also protested against the Henoticon. He analyzed the complaints of the eastern clergy, dissatisfied with the decree, then studied the Act of Union itself and decided to excommunicate and anathematize the Patriarch of Constantinople, Acacius, at a council gathered in Rome. In reply Acacius ceased to mention the pope in his prayers. This was in reality the first true breach between the eastern and western churches; it continued until the year 518, when Justin I ascended the throne. Thus the political breach between the eastern and western parts of the Empire, in evidence since the founding in the fifth century of the barbarian German kingdoms in the West, became wider during the reign of Zeno because of the religious secession.
Anastasius I (491-518).
Settlement of the Isaurian problem. The Persian War. Bulgarian and Slavic attacks. The Long Wall. Relations with the West. — Following the death of Zeno, his widow, Ariadne, chose the aged Anastasius, a native of Dyrrachium, who held the rather minor court position of silentiary (silentiarius). Anastasius was crowned as emperor only after he had signed a written promise not to introduce any ecclesiastical innovations, a promise extracted by the Patriarch of Constantinople, an ardent adherent of the Council of Chalcedon.
Anastasius’ first problem was to settle with the Isaurians, who had acquired so much authority during the reign of Zeno. Their privileged position irritated the population of the capital and when it was also discovered that after the death of Zeno they were plotting against the new Emperor, Anastasius acted with dispatch. He removed them from the responsible posts, confiscated their property, and drove them out of the capital. A long and hard struggle followed this action, and only after six years of fighting were the Isaurians completely subjugated in their native Isauria. Many of them were transported to Thrace. The great service of Anastasius was this decisive settlement of the Isaurian problem.
Among external events, in addition to the exhausting and profitless war with Persia, the state of affairs on the Danube boundary was of great consequence to subsequent history. After the departure of the Ostrogoths to Italy, devastating raids against the northern boundary were undertaken by the Bulgarians, Getae, and Scythians during the reign of Anastasius I. The Bulgarians, who raided the borders of Byzantine territory during the fifth century, were a people of Hunnic (Turkish) origin. They are first mentioned in the Balkan peninsula during the reign of Zeno in connection with the Ostrogothic migrations north of the Byzantine Empire.
As to the rather vague names of Getae and Scythians, the chroniclers of that period were not well informed about the ethnographic composition of the northern peoples; hence it is very likely that these were collective names, and historians consider it probable that some Slavic tribes were included among them. Theophylact, the Byzantine writer of the early seventh century, directly identified the Getae with the Slavs. Thus, during the reign of Anastasius, the Slavs, together with the Bulgarians, first began their irruptions into the Balkan peninsula. According to one source, “a Getic cavalry” devastated Macedonia, Thessaly, and Epirus, and reached as far as Thermopylae. Some scholars have even advanced the theory that the Slavs entered the Balkan peninsula at an earlier period. The Russian scholar Drinov, for example, on the basis of his study of geographical and personal names in the peninsula, placed the beginning of Slavic settlement in the Balkan peninsula in the late second century A.D.
The attacks of the Bulgarians and Slavs during the reign of Anastasius were not of very great consequence for that epoch, for these bands of barbarians, after robbing the Byzantine population, went back to the places from, which they came. Yet these raids were the forerunners of the great Slavic irruptions into the Balkan peninsula in the sixth century during the reign of Justinian.
In order to protect the capital against the northern barbarians, Anastasius erected in Thrace, about forty miles west of Constantinople, the so-called “Long Wall” which extended from the Sea of Marmora to the Black Sea, “making the city,” said one source, “practically an island instead of a peninsula.” This wall did not fulfill the purpose for which it was erected, however. Because of its hurried construction and the breaches made by earthquakes it did not serve as a real barrier to the enemy’s approach to the city walls. The modern Turkish fortifications of the Chatalja lines erected in almost the same place pretty closely approximate the Anastasian wall, traces of which may still be seen today.
In western Europe further important changes were taking place in the time of Anastasius. Theodoric became the king of Italy; and in the far north-west Clovis founded a strong Prankish kingdom even before Anastasius ascended the throne. Both these kingdoms were established on territory which theoretically belonged to the Roman, in this case the Byzantine, emperor. Quite naturally, the distant Frankish kingdom could in no way be dependent upon Constantinople; yet in the eyes of die conquered natives the power of the newcomers had real authority only after official approval from the shores of the Bosphorus. So it was that when the Goths proclaimed Theodoric king of Italy “without waiting,” said a contemporary chronicler, “for directions from the new princeps [Anastasius],” Theodoric nevertheless asked the latter to send him the insignia of imperial power previously returned to Zeno by Odovacar. After long negotiations and the sending of several envoys to Constantinople, Anastasius recognized Theodoric as the ruler of Italy, and the latter then became the legal sovereign in the eyes of the native population. The Arian beliefs of the Goths stood in the way of a closer friendship between the Goths and the natives of Italy.
To Clovis, the king of the Franks, Anastasius sent a diploma conferring upon him the consulship, which Clovis accepted with gratitude. This, of course, was only an honorary consulship, which did not involve the exercise of the duties of the position. Nevertheless it was of great importance to Clovis. The Roman population in Gaul looked upon the eastern emperor as the bearer of supreme authority, who alone could bestow all other power. The diploma of Anastasius conferring the consulship proved to the Gallic population the legality of Clovis’ rule over them. It made him a sort of viceroy of the province, which theoretically still remained a part of the Roman Empire.
These relations of the Byzantine emperor with the Germanic kingdom show clearly that in the late fifth and early sixth centuries the idea of a single empire was still very strong.
The religious policy of Anastasius. The rebellion of Vitalian. Internal reforms — In spite of the promise of the Patriarch of Constantinople not to introduce any ecclesiastical innovations, Anastasius in his religious policy favored Monophysitism; somewhat later, he openly sided with the Monophysites. This act was greeted with joy in Egypt and Syria, where Monophysitism was widespread. In the capital, however, the Monophysitic leanings of the Emperor aroused great confusion and when Anastasius, following the example of Antioch, ordered that the Trisagion (“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”) be chanted with the addition of the words “who wast crucified for us,” (that is, “Holy God, Holy Strong One, Holy Immortal One, crucified for us, be merciful to us”), great disturbances took place in Constantinople and almost brought about the deposition of the Emperor.
This religious policy of Anastasius led to the rebellion of Vitalian in Thrace. At the head of a large army composed of Huns, Bulgarians, and perhaps Slavs, and aided by a large fleet, Vitalian advanced toward the capital. His aim was political; he wished to depose the Emperor. But to the world he announced that he rose to defend the oppressed orthodox church. After a long and strenuous struggle the rebellion was finally suppressed. This revolt was of no little importance in history. “By three times bringing his heterogeneous troops close to Constantinople and by obtaining from the government enormous sums of money,” said Th. I. Uspensky, “Vitalian revealed to the barbarians the weakness of the Empire and the great riches of Constantinople, and taught them something about combined movement on land and sea.”
The internal policy of Anastasius, not yet sufficiently studied or evaluated in historical literature, was marked by intense activity and affected important economic and financial problems of the Empire.
One of his very important financial reforms was the abolition of the hated chrysargyron, a tax paid in gold and silver (in Latin it was called lustralis collatio, or sometimes by a fuller name, lustralis auri argentive collatio). This tax, from as far back as the early part of the fourth century, applied to all the handicrafts and professions in the Empire, even to servants, beggars, and prostitutes. It was levied, perhaps, even on the tools and livestock of the farmers, such as horses, mules, donkeys, and dogs. The poor classes suffered particularly from the burden of the chrysargyron. Officially, this tax was supposed to be collected only once in five years, but in reality the date for its collection was set by the administration arbitrarily and unexpectedly, and these frequent collections at times drove the population to despair. In spite of the large income poured into the government treasury from this tax, Anastasius definitely abolished it and publicly burned all the documents connected with it. The population greeted the abolition of the tax with great joy; to describe this imperial favor, according to one historian of the sixth century, one “needs the eloquence of Thucydides or something still more lofty and graceful,” A Syriac source of the sixth century described the joy with which the edict of abolition was received in the city of Edessa:
The whole city rejoiced, and they all put on white garments, both small and great, and carried lighted tapers and censers full of burning incense, and went forth with psalms and hymns, giving thanks to God and praising the emperor, to the church of St. Sergius and St. Simeon, where they celebrated the eucharist. They then re-entered the city and kept a glad and merry festival during the whole week, and enacted that they should celebrate this festival every year. All the artisans were reclining and enjoying themselves, bathing and feasting in the court of the great Church and in all the porticos of the city.
The amount raised by the chrysargyron at Edessa was 140 pounds of gold every four years. The abolition of this tax gave special satisfaction to the church, because, by participating in the earnings of prostitutes, the tax implicitly gave legal sanction to vice.
Of course the abolition of the chrysargyron deprived the exchequer of considerable revenue but this loss was very soon made good by the introduction of a new tax, the chrysoteleia (χρυσοτελεια), a “gold tax,” or “a tax in gold,” or a tax in cash instead of kind. It was apparently a land tax, which Anastasius applied to the support of the army. This also weighed heavily on the poorer classes, so that the whole financial reform had in view a more regular distribution of tax burdens rather than a real diminution of them. Perhaps the most important financial reform of Anastasius was the abolition, upon the advice of his trusted praetorian prefect, the Syrian Marinus, of the system under which the town corporations (curiae) were responsible for collecting the taxes of the municipalities; Anastasius assigned this task to officials named vindices, who probably were appointed by the praetorian prefect. Although this new system of collecting the taxes increased the revenue considerably, it was modified in following reigns. Under Anastasius the problem of sterile lands seems to have become more acute than ever. The burden of additional taxation fell on persons unable to pay, as well as on the unproductive land. The owners of productive land thus became responsible for the full payment of taxes to the government. This additional assessment, called in Greek “epibole” (επιβολη) that is, “increase,” “surcharge,” was a very old institution going back to Ptolemaic Egypt. It was enacted with particular firmness during the reign of Justinian the Great. Anastasius also decreed that a free peasant-tenant, who had lived in the same place for thirty years, became a colonus, a man attached to the soil, but he did not lose his personal freedom and right to own property.
The time of Anastasius I was marked also by the great currency reform. In the year 498 the large bronze follis with its smaller denominations was introduced. The new coinage was welcome, especially to the poorer citizens, for the copper money in circulation had become scarce, was bad in quality, and had no marks of value. The new coins were struck at the three mints which were in operation under Anastasius, at Constantinople, Nicomedia, and Antioch. The bronze coinage introduced by Anastasius remained the model of imperial currency until about the second half of the seventh century.
To his list of humanitarian reforms Anastasius added a decree forbidding fights between men and beasts in the circus.
Although Anastasius often granted tax reductions to many provinces and cities, especially those in the East devastated by the Persian War, and although he carried out a building program including the Long Wall, aqueducts, the lighthouse of Alexandria, and other projects, the government toward the end of his reign still possessed a large reserve which the historian Procopius estimated, perhaps with some exaggeration, at 320 thousand pounds of gold, equivalent to about $65,000,000 or $70,000,000. The economy of Anastasius was of great importance to the abundant activities of his second successor, Justinian the Great. The time of Anastasius was a splendid introduction to the Justinian epoch.
The main interest of the epoch beginning with Arcadius and ending with Anastasius (395-518) lies in the national and religious problems and in the political events, which were always closely connected with the religious movements. The Germanic, or, to be more exact, the Gothic, tyranny grew very strong in the capital and menaced the entire state in the late fourth century. This was further complicated by the Arian leanings of the Goths. This menace decreased at the beginning of the fifth century under Arcadius and was completely removed by Leo I at the time of its later and much weaker outburst in the middle of the fifth century. Then, at the end of the century, came the new Ostrogothic menace from the north, which was successfully diverted by Zeno into Italy. Thus the Germanic problem in the eastern part of the Empire was settled to the advantage of the government.
The eastern part of the Empire was also successful in achieving in the second half of the fifth century a favorable settlement of the less acute and significant national problem, that of the Isaurian predominance. The Bulgarians and Slavs were only beginning their attacks upon the borders of the Empire during this period and it was not yet possible to foretell the great role which these northern peoples were destined to play in the history of the Byzantine Empire. The period of Anastasius may be viewed as only an introduction to the Slavic epoch in the Balkan peninsula.
The religious problem of this epoch fails into two phases: the orthodox, up to the time of Zeno, and the Monophysitic, under Zeno and Anastasius. Zeno’s favorable attitude towards the Monophysitic doctrine and the explicit Monophysitic sympathies of Anastasius were important not only from the dogmatical point of view but from the political point of view as well. By the end of the fifth century the western part of the Empire, in spite of a theoretically recognized unity, had practically detached itself from Constantinople. In Gaul, in Spain, and in northern Africa new barbaric kingdoms were formed; Italy was practically ruled by German chiefs, and at the end of the fifth century the Ostrogothic kingdom was founded on Italian territory. This state of affairs explains why the eastern provinces — Egypt, Palestine, and Syria — became of exceptionally great importance to the eastern half of the Empire. The great merit of both Zeno and Anastasius lies in the fact that they understood that the center of gravity had shifted and, appreciating the importance of the eastern provinces, they used every possible means to find a way of binding them to the capital. Since these provinces, especially Egypt and Syria, were in general devoted to the Monophysitic doctrine, there could be only one course for the Empire — to make peace with the Monophysites at any cost. This explains Zeno’s evasive and purposely rather obscure Henoticon. It was one of the first steps toward the reconciliation with the Monophysites. When this attempt failed to bring results, Anastasius decided to follow a very definite Monophysitic policy. Both these emperors were politically perspicacious rulers as compared with the emperors of the subsequent period. In their Monophysitic policy both were confronted by the orthodox movement, widely supported in the capital, in the Balkan peninsula, in most of the provinces of Asia Minor, in the islands, and in some portions of Palestine. Orthodoxy was also defended by the pope, who broke off all relations with Constantinople because of the Henoticon. The inevitability of the collision between politics and religion explains the internal religious upheavals during the reign of Anastasius. He did not succeed in bringing about during his lifetime the desired peace and harmony within the Empire. His successors, moreover, led the Empire along an entirely different path, and alienation of the eastern provinces was already beginning to be felt at the end of this period.
On the whole this was a period of struggle on the part of the different nationalities, spurred by greatly differing aims and hopes; the Germans and the Isaurians wanted to attain political supremacy, while the Copts in Egypt and the Syrians were concerned primarily with the triumph of their religious doctrines.
Literature, learning, education, and art.
The developments in literature, learning, and education during the period from the fourth to the beginning of the sixth century are closely connected with the relations established between Christianity and the ancient pagan world with its great culture. The debates of the Christian apologists of the second and third centuries on the question of whether or not it was permissible for a Christian to use pagan materials brought no definite conclusion. While some of the apologists found merit in Greek culture and considered it reconcilable with Christianity, others denied that pagan antiquity was of any significance to the Christian and repudiated it. A different attitude prevailed in Alexandria, the old center of heated philosophic and religious disputes, where discussions on the compatibility of ancient paganism with Christianity tended to draw together these two seemingly irreconcilable elements. Clement of Alexandria, for example, the famous writer of the late second century, said: “Philosophy, serving as a guide, prepares those who are called by Christ to perfection.” Still, the problem of the relation between pagan culture and Christianity was by no means settled by the debates of the first three centuries of the Christian era.
But life did its work, and pagan society was gradually being converted to Christianity, which received a particularly great impetus in the fourth century. It was aided on the one hand by the protection of the government, and on the other by the numerous so-called “heresies,” which awakened intellectual disputes, aroused passionate discussions, and created a series of new and important questions. Meanwhile Christianity was gradually absorbing many of the elements of pagan culture, so that, according to Krumbacher, “Christian topics were being unconsciously clothed in pagan garb.” Christian literature of the fourth and fifth centuries was enriched by the works of great writers in the field of prose as well as that of poetry. At the same time the pagan traditions were continued and developed by representatives of pagan thought.
In the wide realm of the Roman Empire, within the boundaries which existed until the Persian and Arabian conquests of the seventh century, the Christian Orient of the fourth and fifth centuries had several distinct, well-known literary centers, whose representative writers exerted great influence far beyond the limits of their native cities and provinces. Cappadocia, in Asia Minor, had in the fourth century the three famous “Cappadocians,” Basil the Great, his friend Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa, younger brother of Basil. Important cultural centers in Syria were the cities of Antioch and Berytus (Beirut) on the seacoast; the latter was particularly famous for studies in the field of law, and the time of its brilliance lasted from about 200 to 551 A.D. In Palestine, Jerusalem had at this time not yet completely recovered from the destruction during the reign of Titus, and consequently it did not play a very significant part in the cultural life of the fourth and fifth centuries. But Caesarea, and toward the end of the fourth century, the southern Palestinian city of Gaza, with its flourishing school of famous rhetoricians and poets, contributed much to the treasures of thought and literature in this period. But above all these the Egyptian city of Alexandria still remained the center which exerted the widest and deepest influence upon the entire Asiatic Orient. The new city of Constantinople, destined to have a brilliant future in the time of Justinian, was only beginning to show signs of literary activity. Here the official protection of the Latin language, somewhat detached from actual life, was particularly pronounced. Of some importance to the general cultural and literary movements of this epoch were two other western centers of the eastern Empire, Thessalonica and Athens, the latter with its pagan academy, eclipsed in later years by its victorious rival, the University of Constantinople.
A comparison of the cultural developments in the eastern and the western provinces of the Byzantine Empire reveals an interesting phenomenon: in European Greece, with its old population, spiritual activity and creativeness were infinitely small in comparison with developments in the provinces of Asia and Africa, despite the fact that the greater part of these provinces, according to Krumbacher, were “discovered” and colonized only from the time of Alexander the Great. The same scholar, resorted to “our favorite modern language of numbers,” and asserted that the European group of Byzantine provinces was responsible for only ten per cent of the general cultural productivity of this period. In truth, the majority of writers of this epoch came from Asia and Africa, whereas after the founding of Constantinople almost all the historians were Greeks. Patristic literature had its brilliant period of development in the fourth, and the early part of the fifth, century.
The Cappadocians Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzus received an admirable education in the best rhetorical schools of Athens and Alexandria. Unfortunately, no definite information exists about the early education of Basil’s younger brother, Gregory of Nyssa, the most profound thinker of the three. They were all well acquainted with classical literature and represented the so-called “new Alexandrian” movement. This movement, while using the acquisitions of philosophical thinking, insisting upon a place for reason in the study of religious dogma, and refusing to adopt the extremes of the mystical-allegorical movement of the so-called “Alexandrian” school, still did not discard the church tradition. In addition to the wealth of literary works on purely theological subjects wherein they ardently defend orthodoxy in its struggle with Arianism, these three writers left also a large collection of orations and letters. This collection constitutes one of the richest sources of cultural material for the period and even yet it has not been fully exhausted from a historical point of view. Gregory of Nazianzus also left a number of poems, which are chiefly theological, dogmatical, and didactic but are also somewhat historical. His long poem About His Own Life should by reason of form and content take a high place in the field of literature in general. Brilliant as they were, these three writers were the only representatives of their city. “When these three noble geniuses had passed away, Cappadocia returned into the obscurity from which they had drawn it.”
Antioch, the Syrian center of culture, produced in opposition to the Alexandrian school its own movement, which defended the literal acceptance of the Holy Scriptures without allegorical interpretations. This movement was headed by such unusual men of action as the pupil of Libanius and favorite of Antioch, John Chrysostom. He combined thorough classical education with unusual stylistic and oratorical ability and his numerous works constitute one of the world’s great literary treasures. Later generations fell under the spell of his genius and high moral qualities, and literary movements of subsequent periods borrowed ideas, images, and expressions from his works as from an unlimited source. So great was his reputation that in the course of time many works of unknown authors have been ascribed to him; but his authentic works, sermons, and orations and more than two hundred letters, written mainly during his exile, represent an extremely valuable source regarding the internal life of the Empire. The attitude of posterity is well characterized by a Byzantine writer of the fourteenth century, Nicephorus Callistus, who wrote; “I have read more than a thousand sermons by him, which pour forth unspeakable sweetness. From my youth I have loved him and listened to his voice as if it were that of God. And what I know and what I am, I owe to him.”
From the Palestinian city of Caesarea came the “father of ecclesiastical history,” Eusebius, who lived in the second half of the third century and the early part of the fourth century. He died about the year 340. He has been cited earlier as the chief authority on Constantine the Great. Eusebius lived on the threshold of two highly significant historical epochs: on one hand, he witnessed the severe persecutions of Diocletian and his successors and suffered much personally because of his Christian convictions; on the other hand, after the Edict of Galerius he lived through a period of gradual triumph of Christianity under Constantine and participated in the Arian disputes, inclining sometimes to the Arians. He later became one of the greatly trusted and intimate friends of the Emperor. Eusebius wrote many theological and historical works. The Evangelic Preparation (Ευαγγελικη προπαρασκευη, Praeparatio evangelica), the large work in which he defends the Christians against the religious attacks of the pagans, The Evangelic Demonstration (Ευαγγελικη αποδειξις, Demonstratio evangelica), in which he discusses the merely temporal significance of the Mosaic law and the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament by Jesus Christ, his writings in the field of criticism and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, as well as several other works entitle him to a high place of honor in the field of theological literature. These works also contain valuable extracts from older writings which were later lost.
For this study the historical writings of Eusebius are of greater importance. The Chronicle, written apparently before Diocletian’s persecutions, contains a brief survey of the history of the Chaldeans, Assyrians, Hebrews, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans and in its main portion gives chronological tables of the most important historical events. Unfortunately it has survived only through an Armenian translation and partly through a Latin adaptation of St. Jerome. Thus no accurate conception of the form and contents of the original exists today, especially since the translations which have survived were made not from the original Greek, but from an adaptation of The Chronicle which appeared soon after Eusebius’ death.
His outstanding historical work is the Ecclesiastical History, ten books covering the period from the time of Christ to the victory of Constantine over Licinius. According to his own statement, he did not aim to tell of wars and the trophies of generals, but rather to “record in ineffaceable letters the most peaceful wars waged in behalf of the peace of the soul, and to tell of men doing brave deeds for truth rather than country, for piety rather than dearest friends.” Under the pen of Eusebius, church history became the history of martyrdom and persecutions, with all the accompanying terror and atrocities. Because of its abundance of documentary data, his history must be recognized as one of the very important sources for the first three centuries of the Christian era. Besides, Eusebius was important also because he was the first to write a history of Christianity, embracing that subject from all possible aspects. His Ecclesiastical History, which brought him much fame, became the basis for the work of many later church historians and was often imitated. As early as the fourth century it became widely spread in the West through the Latin translation of Rufinus.
The Life of Constantine, written by Eusebius at a later period — if it was written by him at all — has called forth many varied interpretations and evaluations in the scholarly world. It must be classed not so much among the purely historical types of writing as among the panegyrics. Constantine is represented as a God-chosen emperor endowed with the gift of prevision, a new Moses destined to lead God’s people to freedom. In Eusebius’ interpretation the three sons of Constantine personified the Holy Trinity, while Constantine himself was the true benefactor of the Christians, who now attained the high ideal of which they had only dreamed before. In order to keep the-harmony of his work intact, Eusebius did not touch upon the darker sides of the epoch, did not reveal the sinister phenomena of his day, but rather gave full sway to the praise and glorification of his hero. Yet, by a skillful use of this work one may gain much valuable insight into the period of Constantine, especially because it contains many official documents which probably were inserted after the first version was written. In spite of his mediocre literary ability, Eusebius must be considered one of the greatest Christian scholars of the early Middle Ages and a writer who greatly influenced medieval Christian literature.
A whole group of historians continued what Eusebius had begun. Socrates of Constantinople carried his Ecclesiastical History up to the year 439; Sozomen, a native of the district near the Palestinian city of Gaza, was the author of another Ecclesiastical History, also up to the year 439; Theodoret, bishop of Cyrus, a native of Antioch, wrote a similar history covering the period from the Council of Nicaea until the year 428; and, finally, the Arian Philostorgius, whose works have survived only in fragments, narrated events up to the year 425 from his own Arian point of view.
The most intense and varied intellectual life during this period was to be found in Egypt, especially in its progressive center, Alexandria.
An unusual and interesting figure in the literary life of the late fourth and early fifth centuries was Synesius of Cyrene. A descendant of a very old pagan family, educated in Alexandria and later introduced to the mysteries of the neo-Platonic philosophy, he shifted his allegiance from Plato to Christ, married a Christian girl, and became bishop of Ptolemaïs during the last years of his life. In spite of all this, Synesius probably always felt more of a pagan than a Christian. His mission to Constantinople and his address “on Kingship” show his interest in politics. He was not essentially a historian, yet he left extremely important historical materials in 156 letters which reflect his brilliant philosophic and rhetorical attainments and which set the standard of style for the Byzantine Middle Ages. His hymns, written in the meter and style of classical poetry, reveal a peculiar mixture of philosophical and Christian views. This bishop-philosopher felt that the classical culture so dear to him was gradually approaching its end.
During the long and harsh struggle with Arianism appeared the brilliant figure of the ardent Nicaean, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, who left a number of writings devoted to theological disputes in the fourth century. He also wrote the Life of St. Anthony, one of the founders of eastern monasticism, painting in it an ideal picture of ascetic life. This work greatly influenced the spread of monasticism. To the fifth century belongs also the greatest historian of Egyptian monasticism, Palladius of Helenopolis, born in Asia Minor, but well acquainted with Egyptian monastic life because of a sojourn of about ten years in the Egyptian monastic world. Under the influence of Athanasius of Alexandria, Palladius once more presented the ideals of monastic life, introducing into his history an element of legend. The ruthless enemy of Nestorius, Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, also lived during this period. During his stormy and strenuous life he wrote a large number of letters and sermons which the Greek bishops of a later period sometimes learned by heart. He also left a number of dogmatic, polemical, and exegetic treatises which serve as one of the main sources on the ecclesiastical history of the fifth century. According to his own confession, his rhetorical education was insufficient and he could not pride himself upon the Attic purity of his style.
Another extremely interesting figure of this epoch is the woman philosopher, Hypatia, who was killed by the fanatical mob of Alexandria some time in the early part of the fifth century. She was a woman of exceptional beauty and unusual intellectual attainments. Through her father, a famous Alexandrian mathematician, she became acquainted with the mathematical sciences and classical philosophy. She gained wide fame through her remarkable activities as a teacher. Among her pupils were such great literary men as Synesius of Cyrene, who mentions the name of Hypatia in many of his letters. One source told how, “clothed in a mantle, she used to wander about the city and expound to willing listeners the works of Plato, Aristotle, or some other philosopher.”
Greek literature flourished in Egypt until the year 451, when the Council of Chalcedon condemned the Monophysitic doctrine. Since this doctrine was the official Egyptian religion, the action of the council was followed by the abolition of Greek from the church and the substitution of the Coptic language in its stead. The Coptic literature which developed after this is of some importance even to Greek literature, because certain original Greek works which have been lost are preserved at present only through their Coptic translations.
This period saw the development of the literature of religious hymns. The hymn writers gradually abandoned their original practice of imitating classical meters and developed forms of their own. These forms were quite original and for some time were considered merely as prose. It is only in comparatively recent times that these meters have been even partially explained. They are marked by various types of acrostics and rhymes. Unfortunately very little is known of the religious hymns of the fourth and fifth centuries and the history of their gradual development is therefore obscure. Yet it is quite apparent that this development was vigorous. While Gregory the Theologian followed the antique meters in most of his poetical hymns, Romanus the Melode (“Hymn-writer”), whose works appeared in the early sixth century under Anastasius I, used the new forms and made use of acrostics and rhyme.
Scholars have long disputed as to whether Romanus lived in the sixth or in the early eighth century. His brief Life alludes to his arrival at Constantinople during the reign o£ the Emperor Anastasius, but for a long time it was impossible to determine whether this was Anastasius I (491-518) or Anastasius II (713-16). The scholarly world, however, after a long study of the works of Romanus, has definitely agreed that he referred to Anastasius I. Romanus the Melode is sometimes called the greatest poet of the Byzantine period. This “Pindar of rhythmical poetry, “ “the greatest religious genius,” “the Dante of the neo-Hellenes,” is the author of a large number of superb hymns among which is the famous Christian hymn, “Today the Virgin Brings Forth the Supersubstantial.” The poet was born in Syria, and it is very probable that the flowering of his genius occurred during the reign of Justinian, for according to his Life he was a young deacon when he came, during the rule of Anastasius, from Syria to Constantinople, where he miraculously acquired from heaven the gift of writing hymns. The finished work of Romanus in the sixth century seems to indicate that religious poetry in the fifth century had reached a high stage of development; unfortunately the data is inadequate on this point. It is certainly difficult to conceive the existence of this unusual poet in the sixth century without some previous development of church poetry. Unfortunately, also, he cannot be appreciated fully because most of his hymns are still unpublished.
Lactantius, an eminent Christian writer from north Africa in the early part of the fourth century, wrote in Latin. He is particularly important as the author of De mortibus persecutorum. This work gives very interesting information on the time of Diocletian and Constantine down to the so-called rescript of Milan.
The Christian literature of this period is represented by many remarkable authors, but pagan literature does not lag far behind. Among its representatives, too, were a number of gifted and interesting men, one of whom is Themistius of Paphlagonia, who lived in the second half of the fourth century. He was the philosophically educated director of the school of Constantinople, the court orator, and a senator highly esteemed by both pagans and Christians. He wrote a large collection of “Paraphrases of Aristotle,” in which he sought to clarify the more complicated ideas of the Greek philosopher. He is the author also of about forty orations which give abundant information about the important events of the period as well as about his own personal life. The greatest of all the pagan teachers of the fourth century was Libanius of Antioch, who influenced his contemporaries more than any other man of the period. Among his pupils were John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus, and his lectures were studied enthusiastically by the young Julian before he ascended the throne. Libanius’ sixty-five public addresses are of particular interest and provide abundant material about the internal life of the time. Of no lesser importance is the collection of his letters, which in richness of content and remarkable spirit may be compared with the letters of Synesius of Cyrene.
The Emperor Julian was an extremely brilliant figure in the intellectual life of the fourth century, and despite the brevity of his career he clearly demonstrated his talent in various departments of literature. His orations, reflecting his obscure philosophical and religious speculations, such as his appeal “To the King Sun;” his letters; his “Against the Christians,” which is preserved in fragments only; his satirical Misopogon (“The Beardhater”), written against the people of Antioch, important as a biographical source — all these reveal Julian as a gifted writer, historian, thinker, satirist, and moralist. The extent to which his writings were interwoven with the actual realities of the period should be emphasized. The early and sudden death of this young emperor prevented the full development of his unusual genius.
Pagan literature of the fourth and fifth centuries is represented also by several writers in the field of pure history. Among the most significant was the author o£ the very well-known collection of biographies of Roman emperors written in Latin in the fourth century and known under the title of Scriptores Historiae Augustae. The identity of its author, the time of its compilation, and its historical significance are all debatable and have produced an enormous literature.” But in 1923 an English historian wrote: “The time and labour spent upon the Augustan history ... are overwhelming and their results, so far as any practical use for history goes, are precisely nil.” N. Baynes recently made a very interesting attempt to prove that this collection was written under Julian the Apostate with a definite object: propaganda for Julian, his whole administration and religious policy. This point of view has not been accepted by scholars.
Priscus of Thrace, a historian of the fifth century and a member of the embassy to the Huns, was another who made significant contributions. His Byzantine History, which has survived in fragments, and his information on the life and customs of the Huns are both extremely interesting and valuable. In fact, Priscus was the main source on the history of Attila and the Huns for the Latin historians of the sixth century, Cassiodorus and Jordanes. Zosimus, who lived in the fifth century and early part of the sixth, wrote The New History, bringing his account down to Alaric’s siege of Rome in the year 410. As an enthusiastic believer in the old gods he explained that the fall of the Roman Empire was caused by the anger of the gods at being forsaken by the Romans and he blamed Constantine the Great above all. His opinion of Julian was very high. According to a recent writer, Zosimus is not only a historian of the “decline of Rome” but: he is also a theoretician of the republic which he defends and glorifies; he is the sole “republican” of the fifth century.
Ammianus Marcellinus, a Syrian Greek born in Antioch, wrote at the end of the fourth century his Res Gestae, a history of the Roman Empire in Latin. He intended it to be a continuation of the history of Tacitus, bringing the account through the period from Nerva to the death of Valens (96-378). Only the last eighteen books of this history have survived, covering historical events during the period 353-378. The author profited from his harsh military experience in Julian’s campaigns against the Persians and has given firsthand information about contemporary events. Although he remained a pagan to the end of his life, he showed great tolerance toward Christianity. His history is an important source for the period of Julian and Valens, as well as for Gothic and early Hunnic history. His literary genius has been very highly estimated by recent scholars. Stein called him the greatest literary genius in the world between Tacitus and Dante, and N. Baynes called him the last great historian of Rome.
Athens, the city of declining classical thought, was in the fifth century the home of the last distinguished representative of neo-Platonism, Proclus of Constantinople, who taught and wrote there for a long period of years. It was also the birthplace of the wife of Theodosius II, Eudocia Athenais, who possessed some literary ability and wrote several works.
Western European literature of this period, which was brilliantly represented by the remarkable works of St. Augustine and several other gifted writers of prose and poetry, is not discussed here.
After the transfer of the capital to Constantinople, Latin still remained the official language of the Empire during the fourth and fifth centuries. It was used for all the imperial decrees collected in the Theodosian code as well as for the later decrees of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth centuries. But in the curriculum of the higher school at Constantinople in the time of Theodosius II there was a decline of the predominance of Latin and a definite preference for Greek, which was, after all, the most widely spoken language in the eastern part of the Empire. The Greek tradition was also upheld by the Athenian pagan school.
The time from the fourth to the sixth centuries is one when various elements were gradually blending into a new art which bears the name of Byzantine or East-Christian. As the science of history probes more deeply into the roots of this art, it becomes increasingly clear that the East and its traditions played the predominant part in the development of Byzantine art. By the end of the nineteenth century German scholars advanced the theory that the “art of the Roman Empire” (Römische Reichskunst), which had developed in the West during the first two centuries of the Empire, replaced the old Hellenistic culture of the East, which was in a state of decline, and, so to speak, laid the cornerstone for Christian art of the fourth and fifth centuries. At present this theory is repudiated. Since the appearance in 1900 of the famous work of D. V. Aïnalov, Hellenistic Origin of Byzantine Art, and the publication in 1901 of the remarkable work of the Austrian scholar J. Strzygowski, Orient or Rome, the problem of the origin of Byzantine art has assumed an entirely new form; it is taken for granted that the main role in the development of East-Christian art belongs to the East, and the problem is only that of determining what is to be understood by the term “East” and eastern influences. In a large number of very stimulating works the tireless Strzygowski argued the enormous influence exerted by the ancient Orient. At first he sought the center of this influence in Constantinople; later he turned to Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria, and moving still farther to the east and north, he crossed the borders of Mesopotamia and sought the roots of the main influences in the plateau and mountains of Altaï-Iran and in Armenia. He contended, “What Hellas was to the art of antiquity, that Iran was to the art of the new Christian world.” He drew also upon India and Chinese Turkestan for further elucidation of the problem. While recognizing his great services in investigating the origin of Byzantine art, contemporary historical science is still very cautious with regard to his most recent hypotheses.
The fourth century was an extremely important period in the history of Byzantine art. The new status of the Christian faith in the Roman Empire, first as a legal religion and later as the state religion, furthered the rapid growth of Christianity. Three elements — Christianity, Hellenism, and the Orient — met in the fourth century, and out of their union grew what is known as East-Christian art.
Having been made the political center of the Empire, Constantinople gradually became also the intellectual and artistic center. This did not happen at once. “Constantinople had no established pre-existing culture to resist or to control the influx of exotic forces; she had first to balance and assimilate new influences, a task which required at least a hundred years.”
Syria and Antioch, Egypt guided by Alexandria, and Asia Minor, reflecting in their artistic life the influences of more ancient traditions, exerted a very strong and beneficial influence on the growth of East-Christian art. Syrian architecture flourished throughout the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. The magnificent churches of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, as well as some churches at Nazareth, were erected as early as the reign of Constantine the Great. Unusual splendor characterized the churches of Antioch and Syria. “Antioch, as the center of a brilliant civilization, naturally assumed the leadership of Christian art in Syria.” Unfortunately for a long time very little data was available on the art of Antioch, and it is only recently that its beauty and importance have become better known. The “dead cities” of central Syria uncovered in 1860 and 1861 by M. de Vogue give some conception of what Christian architecture of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries was like. One of the most remarkable products of the end of the fifth century was the famous monastery of St. Simeon Stylites (Kalat Seman), located between Antioch and Aleppo, impressive even today in its majestic ruin. The well-known frieze of Mschatta, east of the Jordan, now in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum of Berlin, is apparently also a work of the fourth, fifth, or sixth centuries. To the beginning of the fifth century belongs a beautiful basilica in Egypt erected by the Emperor Arcadius over the grave of Menas, a renowned Egyptian saint. Its ruins have only recently been excavated and studied by C. M. Kaufmann. In the field of mosaics, portraiture, textiles (figured silks of early Christian times), and so forth, several interesting products of the early part of the Byzantine period exist.
The city walls which surrounded Constantinople in the fifth century have survived to the present day. The Golden Gate (Porta Aurea), through which the emperors made their official entry into Constantinople, was built at the end of the fourth century or the early part of the fifth; remarkable for its architectural splendor, it is still in existence.
With the name of Constantine is bound up the erection of the Church of St. Irene and the Church of the Apostles in Constantinople. St. Sophia, the construction of which might have begun in his time, was completed in the time of his son Constantius. These churches were reconstructed in the sixth century by Justinian. In the fifth century another church embellished the new capital, the Basilica of St. John of Studion, which is now the mosque Mir-Achor djami.
A number of monuments of early Byzantine art have been preserved in the western parts of the Empire. Among these are some churches at Thessalonica (Salonika); Diocletian’s palace at Spalato, in Dalmatia (early fourth century); some paintings in S. Maria Antiqua at Rome, dating apparently from the end of the fifth century; the mausoleum of Galla Placidia and the orthodox baptistery at Ravenna (fifth century); and some monuments in North Africa.
In the history of art the fourth and fifth centuries may be viewed as the preparatory period for the epoch of Justinian the Great, when “the capital had attained a full self-consciousness and had assumed to itself a directive power,” the epoch which has been justly described as the First Golden Age of Byzantine Art.
3. Justinian the Great and his successors (518-610)
In their external as well as in their religious policy the successors of Zeno and Anastasius followed a path directly opposite to that of their two predecessors, for they turned their faces from the East to the West, During the period from 518 to 578 the throne was occupied by the following persons: Justin the Elder (518-27), a chief of the Guard (Count of the Excubitors), who by a mere accident was elected to the throne after the death of Anastasius; his famous nephew, Justinian the Great (527-65); and a nephew of the latter, Justin II, known as the Younger (565-78). The names of Justin and Justinian are closely connected with the problem of their Slavonic extraction, which was long regarded by many scholars as a historical fact. This theory was based upon a Life of the Emperor Justinian written by the abbot Theophilus, a teacher of Justinian, and published by the keeper of the Vatican Library, Nicholas Alemannus, in the early part of the seventeenth century. This Life introduces special names for Justinian and his relatives, names by which they were known in their native land and which, in the opinion of the high authorities in Slavonic studies, were Slavonic names, as, for example, Justinian’s name Upravda, “the truth, justice.” When the manuscript used by Alemannus was found and studied at the end of the nineteenth century (1883) by the English scholar Bryce, he proved that it was composed in the early part of the seventeenth century and was purely legendary, without historical value. The theory of Justinian’s Slavonic origin must therefore be discarded at present. Justin and Justinian were probably Illyrians or perhaps Albanians. Justinian was born in one of the villages of upper Macedonia, not far from present-day Uskub, on the Albanian border. Some scholars trace Justinian’s family back to Roman colonists of Dardania, i.e., upper Macedonia. The first three emperors of this epoch, then, were Illyrians or Albanians, though of course they were Romanized; their native language was Latin.
The weak-minded and childless Justin II adopted the Thracian Tiberius, a commander in the army, whom he designated as Caesar. On this occasion he delivered a very interesting speech which made a deep impression on contemporaries for its tone of sincerity and repentance. Since the speech was taken down in shorthand by scribes, it is preserved in its original form. After the death of Justin II, Tiberius reigned as Tiberius II (578-82). With his death ended the dynasty of Justinian, for he was succeeded by his daughter’s husband, Maurice (582-602). Sources differ on the question of Maurice’s origin; some claim that his home and that of his family was the distant Cappadocian city of Arabissus, while others, though still calling him a Cappadocian, consider him the first Greek on the Byzantine throne. There is really no contradiction in terms here, for it is possible that he really may have been born in Cappadocia of Greek descent. Still another tradition claims that he was a Roman. J. A. Kulakovsky considered it possible that he was of Armenian origin, the native population of Cappadocia being Armenian. Maurice was dethroned by the Thracian tyrant, Phocas (602-10), the last emperor of this period.
Immediately after his accession, Justin I departed from the religious policy of his two predecessors by siding definitely with the followers of the Council of Chalcedon and by opening a period of severe persecutions against the Monophysites. Peaceful relations were established with Rome, and the disagreement between the eastern and western churches, dating back to the time of Zeno’s Henoticon, came to an end. The religious policy of the emperors of this period was based upon orthodoxy. This once more alienated the eastern provinces, and a very interesting hint of mildness appeared in a letter written to Pope Hormisdas in 520 by Justin’s nephew Justinian, whose influence was felt from the first year of his uncle’s reign. He tactfully suggested gentleness toward the dissidents: “You will conciliate the people to our Lord, not by persecutions and bloodshed but by patience, lest, wishing to gain souls, we may lose the bodies of many people and souls as well. For it is appropriate to correct errors of long duration with mildness and clemency. That doctor is justly praised who eagerly endeavors to cure old sicknesses in such a way that new wounds may not originate from them.” It is all the more interesting to hear such advice from Justinian since in later years he himself did not often follow it.
At first sight some inconsistency appears in Justin’s relations with the far-off Abyssinian kingdom of Axum. In his war against the King of Yemen, the protector of Judaism, the king of Abyssinia, with the effective backing of Justin and Justinian, gained a strong foothold in Yemen, located in southwestern Arabia across the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, and restored Christianity in this country. We are at first surprised that the orthodox Justin, who adhered to the Chalcedonlan doctrine and took the offensive against Monophysites within his own empire, should support the Monophysite Abyssinian king. But outside the official boundaries of the Empire, the Byzantine Emperor protected Christianity in general, whether it was in accord with his religious dogmas or not. From the point of view of external policy, the Byzantine emperors regarded every gain for Christianity as an essential political, and perhaps economic, advantage.
This rapprochement between Justin and the Abyssinian king has had a rather unexpected reflection in later times. In Abyssinia in the fourteenth century was compiled one of the most important works of Abyssinian (Ethiopian) literature, the Kebra Nagast (The Glory of the Kings), containing a very interesting collection of legends. It proclaims that the Abyssinian reigning dynasty traces its lineage back to the time of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; and indeed at the present day Abyssinia claims to be governed by the oldest dynasty in the world. The Ethiopians, according to the Kebra Nagast, are an elect people, a new Israel; their kingdom is higher than the Roman Empire. The two kings, Justinus, the king of Rome, and Kaleb, the king of Ethiopia, shall meet together in Jerusalem and divide the earth between them. This extremely interesting legend shows clearly the deep impress left upon Abyssinian historical tradition by the epoch of Justin I.
The Reign of Justinian and Theodora.
Justin’s successor, his nephew Justinian (527-65), is the central figure of this entire period. His name is closely connected with the name of his royal wife, Theodora, one of the very interesting and gifted women of the Byzantine period. The Secret History, which is from the pen of Procopius, the historian of Justinian’s epoch, paints in exaggerated colors the perverted life of Theodora in the days of her youth, when, as the daughter of the keeper of the bears in the amphitheater, she lived in the morally corrupt atmosphere of the stage of that period and became a woman who gave freely of her love to many men. Nature had endowed her with beauty, grace, intelligence, and wit. According to one historian (Diehl), “she amused, charmed, and scandalized Constantinople.” Procopius said that people who met Theodora in the street would shrink from getting close to her, fearing that a mere touch might sully their robes. But all these dark details about the early years of the future empress must be viewed with some skepticism, for they all come from Procopius, whose chief aim in The Secret History was to defame Justinian and Theodora. After the very stormy period of her early life, Theodora disappeared from the capital and remained in Africa for a few years. When she returned to Constantinople she was no more the former flighty actress. She had left the stage and was leading a solitary life, devoting much of her time to spinning wool and developing a great interest in religious questions, when Justinian saw her for the first time. Her beauty impressed him greatly and he took her to court, bestowed upon her the rank of patrician, and soon married her. With his accession to the throne she became empress of the Byzantine Empire. Theodora proved herself to be adequate to her new and lofty position. She remained a faithful wife and showed much interest in government affairs, exhibiting very keen insight and exerting much influence upon Justinian in all his undertakings. In the revolt of 532, which will be discussed later, Theodora played one of the most significant parts. By her coolheaded actions and unusual energy she perhaps saved the Empire from further commotions. In her religious preferences she openly favored the Monophysites and was thus the direct opposite of her wavering husband. He adhered to orthodoxy throughout his long reign, though he made some concessions to Monophysitism. She showed a better understanding than he of the significance of the eastern Monophysitic provinces, which were in reality the vital parts of the Empire and she definitely aimed to bring about peaceful relations with them. Theodora died of cancer in the year 548, long before Justinian’s death. In the famous mosaic in the Church of St. Vitale at Ravenna, dating back to the sixth century, Theodora is represented in imperial robes, surrounded by her court. Church historians contemporary with Theodora, as well as those of a later period, are very harsh with regard to her character. In spite of this, in the orthodox calendar under November 14 appears “The Assumption of the Orthodox King Justinian and the memory of the Queen Theodora.” She was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles.
The external policy of Justinian and his ideology.
The numerous wars of Justinian were partly offensive and partly defensive. The former were carried on against the barbarian Germanic states of western Europe; the latter were directed against Persia in the East and the Slavs in the north.
The main forces were directed to the west, where the military activities of the Byzantine army were crowned with triumphant success. The Vandals, the Ostrogoths, and to some extent the Visigoths were forced into subjection to the Byzantine emperor. The Mediterranean Sea was almost converted into a Byzantine lake. In his decrees Justinian called himself Caesar Flavius Justinian the Alamannicus, Gothicus, Francicus, Germanicus, Anticus, Alanicus, Vandalicus, Africanus. But this outer splendor had its reverse side. The success was attained at a price too dear for the Empire, for it involved the complete economic exhaustion of the Byzantine state. In view of the fact that the army was transferred to the west, the east and the north remained open to the attacks of the Persians, Slavs, and Huns.
The principal enemies of the Empire, in Justinian’s opinion, were the Germans. Thus the German question reappeared in the Byzantine Empire during the sixth century, with this difference only: in the fifth century the Germans were attacking the Empire; in the sixth century it was the Empire that pressed upon the Germans.
Justinian mounted the throne with the ideals of an emperor both Roman and Christian. Considering himself a successor of the Roman Caesars, he deemed it his sacred duty to restore a single Empire extending to the same boundaries it had had in the first and second centuries. As a Christian ruler he could not allow the German Arians to oppress the orthodox population. The rulers of Constantinople, as lawful successors of the Caesars, had historical rights to western Europe, occupied at this time by barbarians. The Germanic kings were but vassals of the Byzantine Emperor, who had delegated them to rule in the West. The Frankish king, Clovis, had received his rank of consul from Anastasius; it was Anastasius also who had given official recognition to the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric. When he decided to wage war against the Goths, Justinian wrote, “The Goths, having seized by violence our Italy, have refused to give it back.” He remained, he felt, the natural suzerain of all the rulers within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. As a Christian emperor, Justinian had the mission of propagating the true faith among the infidels, whether they were heretics or pagans. This theory, expressed by Eusebius in the fourth century was still alive in the sixth century. It was the basis of Justinian’s conviction of his duty to re-establish a united Roman Empire which, in the words of one Novel, formerly reached the shores of two oceans, and which the Romans had lost because of their carelessness. From this old theory arose also Justinian’s belief in his duty to introduce in the restored empire a sole Christian faith among the schismatics as well as among the pagans. Such was Justinian’s ideology, which made this all-embracing statesman and crusader dream of conquering the entire known world.
But it must be remembered that the Emperor’s broad claims to the old parts of the Roman Empire were not exclusively a matter of his personal views. They seemed quite natural to the population of the provinces occupied by the barbarians. The natives of the provinces which had fallen into the hands of Arians viewed Justinian as their sole protector. Conditions in northern Africa under the Vandals were particularly difficult, because these barbarians initiated severe persecutions against the native orthodox population and put many citizens and representatives of the clergy in jail, confiscating much of their property. Refugees and exiles from Africa, including many orthodox bishops, arrived at Constantinople and implored the Emperor to inaugurate a campaign against the Vandals, assuring him that a general revolt of the natives would follow.
A similar state of affairs prevailed in Italy, where the natives, in spite of a prolonged period of religious tolerance under Theodoric and his high regard for Roman civilization, continued to harbor hidden discontent and still turned their eyes to Constantinople, expecting aid from there in the cause of liberating their country from the newcomers and restoring the orthodox faith.
Still more interesting is the fact that the barbarian kings themselves supported the Emperor’s ambitious plans. They persisted in expressing signs of deep respect for the Empire, in demonstrating in many ways their subservience to the Emperor, in striving to attain high Roman ranks by any means, in imprinting the image of the Emperor on their coins, etc. The French scholar Diehl said that they would have willingly repeated the words of the Visigothic chief who said, “The emperor is undoubtedly God on earth and whoso raises a hand against him is guilty of his own blood.”
However, in spite of the fact that the state of affairs in Africa and Italy was favorable for Justinian, the campaigns waged against the Vandals and the Ostrogoths were extremely difficult and long drawn out.
Wars with the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Visigoths.
The results of thess wars. Persia. The Slavs. — The expedition against the Vandals presented no easy problem. It involved the transfer of a vast army by sea to northern Africa, and this army would have to contend with a people who possessed a powerful fleet and who even in the middle of the fifth century had succeeded in raiding Rome. Besides, the transfer of the main military forces to the west was bound to have serious consequences in the east, where Persia, the most dangerous enemy of the Empire, waged continual war against Constantinople. Procopius gives an interesting account of the council at which the question of the African expedition was discussed for the first time. The most loyal magistrates of the Emperor expressed doubt about the possible success of the undertaking and considered it precipitate. Justinian himself was beginning to waver; in the end he overcame this temporary weakness and insisted upon his original project. The expedition was definitely decided upon. Meanwhile a change took place in the Persian ruling house, and in the year 532 Justinian succeeded in concluding an “endless” peace with the new ruler on the humiliating condition that the Byzantine Empire should pay a very large annual tribute to the king of Persia. This treaty, however, made it possible for Justinian to act more freely in the east and south. At the head of the vast army and fleet he placed the gifted general Belisarius, who was the most valuable assistant of the Emperor in his military undertakings and who shortly before this appointment had succeeded in quelling the dangerous internal Nika revolt, of which we shall speak later.
At this time the Vandals and Ostrogoths were no longer the dangerous enemies they had been in former days. Unaccustomed to the enervating southern climate and influenced by Roman civilization, they had rapidly lost their former energy and force. The Arian beliefs of these Germans caused unfriendly relations with the native Roman population. The continual uprisings of the Berber tribes also contributed much to the weakening of the Vandals. Justinian had a keen insight into existing conditions, and by skillful diplomacy he increased the internal discord among the Vandals, meanwhile feeling quite certain that the Germanic kingdoms would never unite to oppose him jointly, because the Ostrogoths were on bad terms with the Vandals, the orthodox Franks were constantly struggling with the Ostrogoths, and the Visigoths in Spain were too far distant to take a serious part in a war. All this encouraged Justinian in his hope of defeating each enemy separately.
The Vandal war lasted, with some peaceful intervals, from 533 to 548. Belisarius rapidly subjugated the entire Vandal kingdom by a number of brilliant victories so that Justinian could proclaim triumphantly: “God, in his mercy, gave over to us not only Africa and all her provinces, but also returned our imperial insignia which had been taken away by the Vandals when they took Rome.” Considering the war ended, the Emperor recalled Belisarius and the greater part of the army to Constantinople. Immediately the Moors (a native Berber tribe) rose in terrible rebellion, and the remaining troops were forced to engage in an overwhelming struggle. Belisarius’ successor, Solomon, was utterly defeated and slain. The exhausting war lasted until the year 548, when the imperial power was definitely restored by a decisive victory on the part of John Troglita, a diplomatist as well as a talented general. The third hero of the imperial reoccupation of Africa, he secured complete tranquillity there for nearly fourteen years. His deeds were narrated by the contemporary African poet, Corippus, in his historical work Iohannis.
These conquests did not entirely satisfy Justinian’s hopes, for, with the exception of the powerful fortress of Septum, near the Pillars of Hercules (now the Spanish fortress Ceuta), the western portion of northern Africa, reaching to the Atlantic Ocean, was not reannexed. Yet the greater part of northern Africa, Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands became part of the Empire, and Justinian spent much energy in his efforts to restore order in these conquered lands. Even today the majestic ruins of numerous Byzantine fortresses and fortifications bear witness to the strenuous efforts of the Emperor for the defense of his land.
Still more exhausting was the Ostrogothic campaign, which lasted, also with peaceful intervals, from 535 to 554. During the first thirteen years this was contemporaneous with the Vandal war. Justinian opened military action by intervening in the internal strife of the Ostrogoths. One army began the conquest of Dalmada, which at this time formed a part of the Ostrogothic kingdom. Another, transported by sea and headed by Belisarius, occupied Sicily without much difficulty. Later, when transferred to Italy, this army conquered Naples and Rome. Soon after this, in 540, the Ostrogothic capital, Ravenna, opened its gates to Belisarius, who shortly afterward left Italy for Constantinople, taking with him the captive Ostrogothic king. Justinian added “Gothicus” to his title “Africanus and Vandalicus.” Italy seemed definitely conquered by the Byzantine Empire.
However, at this time there appeared among the Goths an energetic and gifted king, Totila, the last defender of Ostrogothic independence. With speed and decision he reversed the state of affairs. His military successes were so great that Belisarius was recalled from Persia to cope with them and was sent to Italy to assume the supreme command. Belisarius, however, was unable to deal with the situation. In rapid succession the territories conquered by the Byzantine army in Italy and on the islands were reclaimed by the Ostrogoths. The unfortunate city of Rome, which several times passed back and forth from Romans to Ostrogoths, was transformed into a heap of ruins. After Belisarius’ failures had led to his recall from Italy, his successor, Narses, another gifted Byzantine general, finally succeeded in conquering the Goths by a number of actions displaying great strategic skill. Totila’s army was defeated in 552 in the battle of Busta Gallorum in Umbria. Totila himself fled, but in vain. “His blood-stained garments and the cap adorned with gems which he had worn were taken to Narses who sent them to Constantinople, where they were laid at the feet of the emperor as a visible proof that the enemy who had so long defied his power was no more.” In the year 554, after twenty years of devastating warfare, Italy, Dalmatia, and Sicily were reunited with the Empire. The Pragmatic Sanction, published by Justinian in the same year, returned to the large landed aristocracy of Italy and to the church the land taken away from them by the Ostrogoths and restored all their former privileges; it also outlined a number of measures intended to lessen the burdens of the ruined population. But the Ostrogothic wars for a long time prevented the development of industry and commerce in Italy and, as a result of the lack of laborers, many Italian fields remained uncultivated. For a time Rome became a second-rate ruined city of no political importance. The pope, however, chose it as his refuge.
Justinian’s last military undertaking was directed against the Visigoths in the Pyrenean peninsula. Taking advantage of civil war between different pretenders to the Visigothic throne, he sent a navy to Spain in 550. Although the armament must have been small, it achieved remarkable success. Many maritime cities and forts were captured, and finally Justinian succeeded in taking from the Visigoths the southeastern corner of the peninsula, with the cities of Carthage, Málaga, and Córduba, and then in extending the territory which eventually reached from Cape St. Vincent on the west to beyond Carthage on the east. With some modifications the imperial province thus established in Spain remained under the rule of Constantinople for about seventy years. It is not perfectly clear whether this province was independent or was subordinate to the governor of Africa. Some churches and other architectural monuments of Byzantine art have recently been discovered in Spain, but as far as one may judge, they are not of great value.
The result of all these offensive wars was to double the extent of Justinian’s empire. Dalmatia, Italy, the eastern part of North Africa (part of present-day Algeria and Tunis), the southeast of Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Balearic Islands all became part of the Empire. The Mediterranean again became practically a Roman lake. The boundaries of the Empire extended from the Pillars of Hercules, or the Straits of Gades, to the Euphrates. But in spite of this enormous success, Justinian’s achievements fell far short of his hopes. He did not succeed in reconquering the entire Western Roman Empire. The western part of North Africa, the Pyrenean peninsula, the northern portion of the Ostrogothic kingdom, north of the Alps (the former provinces of Rhaetia and Noricum) still remained outside of his power. The entire province of Gaul not only was completely independent of the Byzantine Empire but even to a certain extent was victorious over it, for Justinian was forced to cede Provence to the King of the Franks. It must also be remembered that the power of the Emperor was not equally firm throughout the vast newly conquered territory. The government had neither the authority nor the means to establish itself more solidly. And yet these territories could be retained by force only. That is why the brilliant outward success of Justinian’s offensive wars brought with it the beginnings of serious future complications, both political and economic.
The defensive wars of Justinian were far less successful and at times were even humiliating. These wars were carried on with Persia in the east and with the Slavs and the Huns in the north.
The two great powers of the sixth century, the Byzantine Empire and Persia, had been engaged for centuries in bloody wars on the eastern border. After the “endless” peace with Persia, the Persian king, Chosroes Nushirvan, a gifted and skillful ruler, recognized the high ambitions of Justinian in the West and took advantage of the situation. Aware of his own important interests in the border provinces, he seized upon a plea for help from the Ostrogoths as an opportunity to break the “endless” peace and open hostilities against the Byzantine Empire. A bloody war ensued, with apparent victory for the Persians. Belisarius was recalled from Italy but was unable to stop the advance of Chosroes, who forced his way into Syria and sacked and destroyed Antioch, “the city which was both ancient and of great importance and the first of all the cities which the Romans had throughout the East both in wealth and in size and in population and in beauty and in prosperity of every kind.” In his onward march Chosroes reached the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In the north the Persians attempted to force their way to the Black Sea but encountered an obstacle in the Lazi of the Caucasian province of Lazica (now Lazistan), which at the time was dependent on the Byzantine Empire. It was only after great difficulty that Justinian finally succeeded in buying a truce for five years, and then he was forced to pay a large sum of money for it. But even Chosroes wearied of the endless collisions, and in the year 561 or 562 the Byzantine Empire and Persia reached an agreement establishing peace for fifty years. The historian Menander contributed accurate and detailed information about the negotiations and the terms of this treaty. The Emperor undertook to pay Persia annually a very large sum of money, while the king of Persia promised to preserve religious toleration for Christians in Persia on the strict condition that they refrain from proselytizing. Roman and Persian merchants, whatever their wares, were to carry on their traffic solely at certain prescribed places where customhouses were stationed. In this treaty the most important point for the Byzantine Empire was the agreement of the Persians to leave Lazica, the province on the southeastern coast of the Black Sea, and to resign it to the Romans. In other words, the Persians did not succeed in gaining a stronghold on the shores of the Black Sea; it remained in complete possession of the Byzantine Empire, a fact of great political and economic importance.
Quite different was the nature of the defensive wars in the north, in the Balkan peninsula. The northern barbarians, the Bulgarians, and the Slavs had devastated the provinces of the peninsula even as far back as the reign of Anastasius. In the time of Justinian the Slavs appear for the first time under their own name, “Sclavenes,” in Procopius. Large hordes of Slavs and Bulgarians, whom Procopius calls Huns, crossed the Danube almost every year and penetrated deep into the Byzantine provinces, destroying everything with fire and sword. On one side they reached the outskirts of the capital and penetrated to the Hellespont; on the other they went through Greece as far as the Isthmus of Corinth and the shores of the Adriatic Sea in the west. During Justinian’s reign also the Slavs began to show a clearly defined movement toward the shores of the Aegean Sea. In their effort to reach this sea they menaced Thessalonica, one of the most important cities of the Empire, which, together with its environs, soon became one of the main Slavic centers in the Balkan peninsula. The imperial troops fought desperately against the Slavic invasions and often forced the Slavs to retreat beyond the Danube. But not all the Slavs went back. Justinian’s troops, occupied in other important campaigns, could not put a decisive end to the yearly incursions of the Slavs in the Balkan peninsula, and some Slavs remained there. The beginning in this period of the Slavonic problem in the Balkan peninsula should be emphasized; the problem was to become one of very great significance for the Empire during the late sixth and early seventh centuries.
Besides the Slavs, the German Gepids and Kotrigurs, a branch of the Hunnic race, invaded the Balkan peninsula from the north. In the winter of 558-59 the Kotrigurs under their chieftain, Zabergan, entered Thrace. From there one band was sent to ravage Greece, another invaded the Thracian Chersonese, and the third, consisting of cavalry, rode under Zabergan himself to Constantinople. The country was devastated. Panic reigned in Constantinople. The churches of the invaded provinces sent their treasures to the capital or shipped them to the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus. Justinian appealed to Belisarius to save Constantinople in this crisis. The Kotrigurs eventually were defeated in all three points of attack, but Thrace, Macedonia, and Thessaly suffered a terrible economic blow from the invasion.
The Hunnic danger was felt not only in the Balkan peninsula but also in the Crimea in the lonely Tauric peninsula, which was located in the Black Sea and which belonged in part to the Empire. Two cities there, Cherson and Bosporus, were famous for preserving Greek civilization for centuries in barbarous surroundings, and they also played an important part in the trade between the Empire and the territory of present-day Russia. Toward the close of the fifth century the Huns had occupied the plains of the peninsula and had begun to threaten the Byzantine possessions there, as well as a small Gothic settlement centered around Dory in the mountains under Byzantine protection. Under the pressure of the Hunnic danger, Justinian built and restored several forts and erected long walls whose traces are still visible, a sort of limes Tauricus, which proved successful protection.
Lastly, the missionary zeal of Justinian and Theodora did not overlook the African peoples who lived on the Upper Nile between Egypt and Abyssinia, above the First Cataract, the Blemyes, and the Nobadae (Nubians), their southern neighbors. Through the energy and artfulness of Theodora, the Nobadae with their king, Silko, were converted to Monophysite Christianity, and the convert king joined with a Byzantine general to force the Blemyes to adopt the same faith. In order to celebrate his victory, Silko set up in a temple of the Blemyes an inscription about which Bury remarked: “The boast of this petty potentate might be appropriate in the mouth of Attila or of Tamurlane.” The inscription was: “I, Silko, kinglet (βασιλισκος) of the Nobadae and of all the Ethiopians.”
Significance of Justinian’s external policy.— To summarize Justinian’s entire external policy we must say that his endless and exhausting wars, which failed to realize all his hopes and projects, had a fatal effect upon the Empire in general. First of all, these gigantic undertakings demanded enormous expenditures. Procopius in his Secret History estimated, perhaps with some exaggeration, that Anastasius left a reserve, enormous for that time, which amounted to 320,000 pounds of gold (about $65,000,000 or $70,000,000), and this Justinian is supposed to have spent in a short time, even during his uncle’s reign. According to another source of the sixth century, the Syrian John of Ephesus, Anastasius’ reserve was not completely exhausted until the reign of Justin II, after the death of Justinian; this statement, however, is incorrect, The fund left by Anastasius, admittedly smaller than Procopius would have us believe, must have been of great value to Justinian in his undertakings. Yet it alone could not suffice. The new taxes were greater than the exhausted population could pay. The Emperor’s attempts to curtail the expenditures of the state by economizing on the upkeep of the army brought about a reduction in the number of soldiers, which naturally made the western conquered provinces very unsafe.
From Justinian’s Roman point of view, his western campaigns are comprehensible and natural, but from the point of view of the welfare of the Empire they must be recognized as superfluous and pernicious. The gap between the East and the West in the sixth century was already so great that the mere idea of uniting the two was an anachronism. A real union was out of the question. The conquered provinces could be retained by force only, and for this the Empire had neither power nor means. Allured by his delusive dreams, Justinian failed to grasp the importance of the eastern border and the eastern provinces, which embodied the really vital interests of the Byzantine Empire. The western campaigns, displaying only the personal will of the Emperor, could not bring about lasting results, and the plan of restoring a united Roman Empire died with Justinian, though not forever. Meanwhile, his general external policy brought about an extremely severe internal economic crisis within the Empire.
The legislative work of Justinian and Tribonian.
Justinian became universally famous because of his legislative work, remarkable for its sweeping character. It was his opinion that an emperor “must be not only glorified with arms, but also armed with laws, so that alike the time of war and the time of peace may be rightly guided; he must be the strong protector of law as well as the triumpher over vanquished enemies.” Furthermore, he believed, it was God who bestowed upon the emperors the right to create and interpret laws, and an emperor must be a lawgiver, with his rights sanctified from above. But, quite naturally, in addition to all these theoretical foundations, the Emperor was guided also by practical considerations, for he realized fully that Roman law of his time was in a very chaotic state.
Back in the days of the pagan Roman Empire, when the legislative power was entirely in the hands of the emperor, the sole form of legislation was the issuing of imperial constitutions, called laws or statute laws (leges). In contrast with these, all laws created by earlier legislation and developed by the jurists of the classical period were called jus vetus or jus antiquum. From the middle of the third century A.D., jurisprudence declined very rapidly. Juridical publications were limited to pure compilations, which aimed to assist judges unable to study the entire juridical literature by providing them with collections of extracts from imperial constitutions and the works of universally famous old jurists. But these collections were of a private nature and had no official sanction whatever, so that in real practice a judge had to look into all the imperial constitutions and into all of the classical literature, a task quite beyond the powers of any one man. There was no one central organ for the publication of the imperial constitutions. Increasing in quantity annually, scattered in various archives, they could not be used easily in practice, especially since new edicts very often repealed or changed old ones. All this explains the acute need for a single collection of imperial edicts accessible to those who had to use it. Much had been done in this direction before Justinian. In his own legislative work he was greatly aided by the earlier Codex Gregorianus, Codex Hermogenianus, and Codex Theodosianus. In order to facilitate the use of classical literature (the jus vetus), a decree was issued during the reign of Theodosius II and his western contemporary, Valentinian III, which granted paramount authority only to the works of the five most famous jurists. The remaining juridical writers could be disregarded. Of course, this was only a formal solution of the problem, especially since in the works of the five chosen jurists it was not at all easy to find suitable decisions for a given case, because the jurists often contradicted one another and also because the decisions of the classical jurists were often too much out of date to be practical for the changed living conditions. Official revision of the entire legal system and a summing up of its development through many centuries was greatly needed.
The earlier codes contained only the imperial constitutions issued during a certain period and did not touch upon juridical literature. Justinian undertook the enormous task of compiling a code of imperial constitutions up to his own time as well as revising the old juridical writings. His main assistant in this task and the soul of the entire undertaking was Tribonian.
The work progressed with astonishing rapidity. In February, 528, the Emperor gathered a commission of ten experts, including Tribonian, “the Emperor’s right hand in his great legal enterprise, and perhaps partly their inspirer,” and Theophilus, professor of law at Constantinople. The problem of the commission was to revise the three older codes, to eliminate from them all the obsolete material, and to systematize the constitutions which had appeared since the publication of the Theodosian code. The results of all these labors were to be gathered in one collection. As early as April, 529, the Justinian code (Codex Justinianus) was published. It was divided into ten books, containing the constitutions from the reign of the Emperor Hadrian to the time of Justinian; it became the sole authoritative code of laws in the Empire, thus repealing the three older codes. Although the compilation of Justinian’s code was greatly aided by the older codes, the attempt to revise the jus vetus was an original undertaking of the Emperor. In the year 530 Tribonian was instructed to gather a commission which would revise the works of all the classical jurists, make excerpts from them, reject all obsolete materials, eliminate all contradictions, and, finally, arrange all the materials collected in some definite order. For the purpose of doing this the commission had to read and study about two thousand books, containing over three million lines. This enormous work, which in Justinian’s own words, “before his command none ever expected or deemed to be at all possible for human endeavor” and “which freed all jus vetus of superfluous redundance,” was completed in three years. The new code, published in the year 533, was subdivided into fifty books and was called the “Digest” (Digestum), or the “Pandects” (Pandectae), It found immediate application in the legal practices of the Empire.
Though this Digest of Justinian is of very great importance, the haste with which it was compiled necessarily caused the work to be defective in certain respects. It contained many repetitions, contradictions, and some quite obsolete decisions. In addition to this, the full power given to the commission in the matter of abbreviating texts, interpreting them, and combining several texts into one, produced a certain arbitrariness in the final results, which sometimes even mutilated the ancient texts. There was a decided lack of unity in this work. This fault is responsible for the fact that the learned jurists of the nineteenth century, who had high regard for Roman classical law, judged Justinian’s Digest very harshly. Still, the Digest, in spite of all its shortcomings, was of great practical value. It also preserved for posterity a wealth of material extracted from the classical Roman juridical writings which have not been preserved.
During the time of the compiling of the Digest, Tribonian and his two learned coadjutors, Theophilus, professor in Constantinople, and Dorotheus, professor at Beirut (in Syria), were charged with the solution of another problem. According to Justinian, not all “were able to bear the burden of all this mass of knowledge,” i.e., the Code and the Digest. The young men, for instance, “who, standing in the vestibules of law, are longing to enter the secrets thereof,” could not attempt to master all the contents of the two large works, and it was necessary to make up a usable practical manual for them. Such a handbook of civil law, intended primarily for the use of students, was issued in the year 533. It was divided into four books and was called the “Institutions” (Institutiones), or the “Institutes.” According to Justinian, these were supposed to conduct “all muddy sources of the jus vetus into one clear lake.” The imperial decree which sanctioned the Institutions was addressed to “youth eager to know the laws” (cupidae legum juventuti).
During the time that the Digest and the Institutions were being compiled, current legislation did not come to a standstill. Many new decrees were issued and a number of matters needed revision. In short, the Code, in its edition of the year 529, seemed out of date in many parts, and a new revision was undertaken and completed in the year 534. In November the second edition of the revised and enlarged Code, arranged in twelve books, was published under the title Codex repetitae praelectionis. This edition nullified the earlier edition of 529 and contained the decrees of the period beginning with Hadrian and ending with the year 534. This work concluded the compilation of the Corpus. The first edition of the Code has not been preserved.
The decrees issued after the year 534 were called “Novels” (Novellas leges). While the Code, the Digest, and the Institutions were written in Latin, a great majority of the Novels were drawn up in Greek. This fact was an important concession to the demands of living reality from an emperor steeped in Roman tradition. In one Novel, Justinian wrote, “We have written this decree not in the native language, but in the spoken Greek, in order that it may become known to all through the ease of comprehension.” In spite of Justinian’s intention to collect all the Novels in one body, he did not succeed, though some private compilations of Novels were made during his reign. The Novels are considered the last part of Justinian’s legislative work and serve as one of the main sources on the internal history of his epoch.
Justinian felt that the four indicated parts, namely, the Code, the Digest, the Institutions, and the Novels, should form one Corpus of law, but during his reign they were not combined into such a collection. Only much later, in the Middle Ages, beginning with the twelfth century, during the revival of the study of Roman law in Europe, all of Justinian’s legislative works became known as the Corpus juris civilis, i.e., the “Corpus of Civil Law.” Today they are still known by this name.
The bulkiness of Justinian’s legislative work and the fact that it was written in Latin, little understood by the majority of the population, were responsible for the immediate appearance of a number of Greek commentaries and summaries of certain parts of the Code as well as some more or less literal translations (paraphrases) of the Institutions and the Digest with explanatory notes. These small legal collections in Greek, called forth by the needs of the time and by practical considerations, contained numerous mistakes and oversights with regard to their original Latin text; even so they thrust the original into the background and almost completely supplanted it.
In conformity with the new legislative works the teaching of legal studies was also reformed. New programs of study were introduced. The course was announced to be of five years’ duration. The main subject for study during the first year was the Institutions; for the second, third, and fourth years, the Digest; and finally, in the fifth year, the Code. In connection with the new program Justinian wrote, “When all legal secrets are disclosed, nothing will be hidden from the students, and after reading through all the works put together for us by Tribonian and others, they will turn out distinguished pleaders and servants of justice, the ablest of men and successful in all times and places.” In addressing the professors Justinian wrote, “Begin now under the governance of God to deliver to the students legal learning and to open up the way found by us, so that they, following this way, may become excellent ministers of justice and of the state, and the greatest possible honor may attend you for all ages to come.” In his address to the students the Emperor wrote, “Receive with all diligence and with eager attention these laws of ours and show yourselves so well versed in them that the fair hope may animate you of being able, when the whole course of your legal study is completed, to govern our Empire in such regions as may be attributed to your care.” The teaching itself was reduced to a simple mastery of the materials taught and to the interpretations based on these materials. Verifying or reinterpreting the text by citing original works of the classical jurists was not permitted. The students were allowed only to make literal translations and to compose brief paraphrases and extracts.
In spite of all the natural shortcomings in the execution and the numerous defects in method, the stupendous legislative work of the sixth century has been of unceasing and universal importance. Justinian’s code preserved the Roman law, which gave the basic principles for the laws regulating most of modern society. “The will of Justinian performed one of the most fruitful deeds for the progress of mankind,” said Diehl. In the twelfth century, when the study of Roman law, or, as this phenomenon is usually called, the reception of Roman law, began in western Europe, Justinian’s code of civil law became the real law for many places. “Roman law,” said Professor I. A. Pokrovsky, “awoke to new life and for a second time united the world. All legal developments in western Europe, even those of the present day, continue under the influence of Roman law … The most valuable contents of Roman legislation were introduced into paragraphs and chapters of contemporary codes and functioned under the name of these codes.”
An interesting shift of viewpoint in the study of the legislative work of Justinian has occurred recently. Up to now this work, with the exception of the Novels, has been considered primarily as an aid for a closer acquaintance with Roman law, that is, as of auxiliary, not primary, significance. The Code was not studied for itself and never served as a subject for “independent” investigation. From this viewpoint it was objected that Justinian, or rather Tribonian, distorted classical law by either abbreviating or enlarging the text of the original. At present, however, emphasis is placed on whether or not Justinian’s work met the needs of his time and to what extent it did so. The changes in the classical text are properly ascribed not to the arbitrariness of the compiler but to a desire to adapt Roman law to living conditions in the Eastern Empire in the sixth century. The success of the Code in accomplishing this purpose must be studied with reference to the general social conditions of the time. Both Hellenism and Christianity must have influenced the work of the compilers, and the living customs of the East must have been reflected in the revisions of the ancient Roman law. Some scholars accordingly speak of the eastern character of the legislative work of Justinian. The problem of contemporary historical-juridical science, then, is to determine and evaluate Byzantine influences in Justinian’s Code, Digest, and Institutions. The Novels of Justinian, as products of current legislation, naturally reflected the conditions and needs of contemporary life.
In Justinian’s time three law schools were flourishing, one in Constantinople, one in Rome, and one in Beirut. All other schools were suppressed lest they serve as bases for paganism. In 551 the city of Beirut (Berytus) was destroyed by a terrific earthquake followed by a tidal wave and fire. The school of Beirut was transferred to Sidon but had no further importance.
In Russia under the Tsar Fedor Alekseievich (1676-1682) a project was organized to translate Justinian’s Corpus Juris into Russian. A German scholar published a contemporary report on the subject and called the project “a deed worthy of Hercules” (hoc opus Hercule dignum), but unfortunately it was not carried out.
The ecclesiastical policy of Justinian.
As the successor of Roman Caesars, Justinian considered it his duty to restore the Roman Empire, and at the same time he wished to establish within the Empire one law and one faith. “One state, one law, and one church” — such was the brief formula of Justinian’s entire political career. Basing his conceptions on the principle of absolute power, he assumed that in a well-ordered state everything is subject to the authority of the emperor. Fully aware of the fact that the church might serve as a powerful weapon in the hands of the government, he used every effort to bring it into subjection. Historians have tried to analyze the motives which guided Justinian’s church policy; some have concluded that with him politics was foremost and religion only a servant of the state, others that this “second Constantine the Great was ready to forget his direct administrative duties wherever church matters were concerned.” In his desire to be full master of the church, Justinian not only aimed to keep in his own hands the internal administration and the fate of the clergy, even those of highest rank, but he also considered it his right to determine a specific dogma for his subjects. Whatever religious tendency was followed by the Emperor had to be followed also by his subjects. The Byzantine Emperor had the right to regulate the life of the clergy, to fill the highest hierarchic posts according to his own judgment, to appear as mediator and judge in the affairs of the clergy. He showed his favorable attitude toward the church by protecting the clergy and by promoting the erection of new churches and monasteries, to which he granted special privileges. He also exerted much effort in attempting to establish a unity of faith among his subjects. He frequently participated in dogmatical disputes, passing final decisions on debatable questions of doctrine. This policy of temporal authority in religious and ecclesiastical affairs, penetrating even the deepest regions of inner religious convictions of individuals, is known in history as Caesaro-papism, and Justinian may be considered one of the most characteristic representatives of the Caesaropapistic tendency. In his conception the ruler of the state was to be both Caesar and pope; he was to combine in his person all temporal and spiritual power. The historians who emphasize the political side of Justinian’s activities claim that the chief motive in his Caesaropapism was a desire to make secure his political power, to strengthen the government, and to find religious support for the throne which he had procured by chance.
Justinian had received a good religious education. He knew the Scriptures very well, was fond of participating in religious discussions, and wrote a number of church hymns. Religious conflicts seemed dangerous to him, even from a political point of view, for they menaced the unity of the Empire.
Although two predecessors of Justin and Justinian, Zeno and Anastasius, had followed the path of peaceful relations with the eastern Monophysitic church, thereby breaking away from the Roman church, Justin and Justinian definitely favored the Roman church and renewed friendly relations with it. This state of affairs was bound to alienate the eastern provinces, a fact that did not harmonize with the projects of Justinian, who was exceedingly anxious to establish a uniform faith throughout his vast Empire. The achievement of a church unity between the East and the West, between Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome, was impossible. “Justinian’s government,” said one historian, “was in its church policy a double-faced Janus with one face turned to the west, asking for direction from Rome, while the other, looking east, sought the truth from the Syrian and Egyptian monks.”
The fundamental aim of Justinian’s church policy from the very beginning of his reign was the establishment of closer relations with Rome; hence he had to appear as the defender of the Council of Chalcedon, the decisions of which were strongly opposed by the eastern provinces. During Justinian’s reign the see of Rome enjoyed supreme church authority. In his letters to the bishop of Rome, Justinian addressed him as “Pope,” “Pope of Rome,” “Apostolic Father,” “Pope and Patriarch,” etc., and the title of pope was applied exclusively to the bishop of Rome. In one epistle the Emperor addressed the Pope as the “head of all holy churches” (caput omnium sanctarum ecclesiarum), and in one of his Novels he definitely stated that “the most blessed see of the archbishop of Constantinople, the New Rome, ranks second after the most holy apostolic see of Old Rome.”
Justinian came into collision with the Jews, the pagans, and the heretics. The latter included the Manichaeans, the Nestorians, the Monophysites, the Arians, and representatives of other less significant religious doctrines. Arianism was widely spread in the West among the Germanic tribes. Survivals of paganism existed in various parts of the Empire, and the pagans still looked upon the Athenian school as their main center. The Jews and the followers of minor heretical movements were centered primarily in the eastern provinces. The widest following was, of course, the Monophysitic. The struggle with the Arians in the West assumed the form of military undertakings, which ended in the complete or partial subjection of the Germanic kingdoms. In view of Justinian’s conviction of the necessity of a unified faith in the Empire there could be no tolerance toward the leaders of other faiths and heretical teachings, who consequently were subjected during his reign to severe persecution carried out with the aid of military and civil authorities.
The closing of the Athenian school. — In order to eradicate completely the survivals of paganism, Justinian in the year 529 closed the famous philosophic school in Athens, the last rampart of effete paganism, the decline of which had been already precipitated by the organization of the University of Constantinople in the fifth century during the reign of Theodosius II. Many of the professors were exiled and the property of the school was confiscated. One historian writes, “The same year when St. Benedict destroyed the last pagan national sanctuary in Italy, the temple of Apollo in the sacred grove of Monte Cassino, saw also the destruction of the stronghold of classical paganism in Greece.” From this period onward Athens definitely lost its former importance as a cultural center and deteriorated into a quiet, second-rate city. Some of the philosophers of the closed school decided to migrate to Persia, where, they had heard, King Chosroes was interested in philosophy. They were received in Persia with great esteem, but life in a foreign country was unbearable to these Greeks, and Chosroes determined to let them go back to their land, first arranging a treaty with Justinian by which the latter promised not to persecute them or force them to embrace the Christian faith. Justinian kept this promise and the pagan philosophers spent the rest of their lives in the Byzantine Empire in complete peace and safety. Justinian failed to bring about the complete eradication of paganism; it continued to exist secretly in remote localities.
The Jews and their religious kinsmen, the Samaritans of Palestine, unable to be reconciled to the government persecutions, rose in rebellion but were soon quelled by cruel violence. Many synagogues were destroyed, while in those which remained intact it was forbidden to read the Old Testament from the Hebrew text, which had to be replaced by the Greek version of seventy translators (the so-called “Septuagint”). The civil rights of the population were curtailed. The Nestorians were also severely persecuted.
Religious problems and the Fifth Ecumenical Council
Most important of all, of course, was Justinian’s attitude toward the Monophysites. First of all, his relations with them were of great political importance and involved the extremely significant problem of the eastern provinces, Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. In the second place, the Monophysites were supported by Justinian’s wife, Theodora, who had a powerful influence over him. One contemporary Monophysitic writer (John of Ephesus) called her a “Christ-loving woman filled with zeal” and “the most Christian empress, sent by God in difficult times to protect the persecuted.”
Following her advice, Justinian attempted at the beginning of his reign to establish peaceful relations with the Monophysites, He permitted the bishops who had been exiled during the reign of Justin and at the beginning of his own reign to return home. He invited many Monophysites to the capital to a conciliatory religious conference, at which, according to an eyewitness, he appealed to them to discuss all doubtful questions with their antagonists “with all mildness and patience as behooves orthodox and saintly people.” He gave quarters in one of the palaces in the capital to five hundred Monophysitic monks; they were likened to “a great and marvelous desert of solitaries.” In 535 Severus, the head and “true legislator of Monophysitism,” arrived in Constantinople and remained there a year. “The capital of the Empire, at the beginning of the year 535, was assuming somewhat the aspect which it had presented under the reign of Anastasius.” The see of Constantinople was entrusted to the bishop of Trapezus (Trebizond), Anthimus, famous for his conciliatory policy towards the Monophysites. The Monophysites seemed triumphant.
However, things changed very soon. Pope Agapetus and a party of the Akoimetoi (extreme orthodox), upon arriving at Constantinople, raised such an uproar against the religious pliancy of Anthimus that Justinian was forced regretfully to change his policy. Anthimus was deposed and his place was taken by the orthodox presbyter, Menas. One source relates the following conversation between the Emperor and the pope: “I shall either force you to agree with us, or else I shall send you into exile,” said Justinian, to which Agapetus answered, “I wished to come to the most Christian of all emperors, Justinian, and I have found now a Diocletian; however, I fear not your threats.” It is very likely that the Emperor’s concessions to the pope were caused partly by the fact that the Ostrogothic war began at this time in Italy and Justinian needed the support of the West.
In spite of this concession, Justinian did not forsake further attempts of reconciliation with the Monophysites, This time he raised the famous question of the Three Chapters. The matter concerned three church writers of the fifth century: Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and Ibas of Edessa. The Monophysites accused the Council of Chalcedon because in spite of the Nestorian ideas of these three writers, it had failed to condemn them. The pope and the Akoimetoi advanced very strong opposition. Justinian, greatly provoked, declared that in this case the Monophysites were right and the orthodox must agree with them. He issued in the early forties a decree which anathematized the works of the three writers and threatened to do the same to all people who might attempt to defend or approve them.
Justinian wished to make this edict obligatory on all churches and demanded that it be signed by all the patriarchs and bishops. But this was not easy to accomplish. The West was troubled by the fact that the willingness to sign this imperial edict might mean an encroachment upon the authority of the Council of Chalcedon. One learned deacon of Carthage wrote, “If the definitions of the Council of Chalcedon are being disputed, then is it not possible that also the Council of Nicaea might be subject to a similar menace?” In addition to this the question was raised as to whether it was permissible to condemn dead men, since all three writers had died in the preceding century. Finally, some leaders of the West were of the opinion that by this edict the Emperor was violating the conscience of members of the church. This view was not held in the eastern church, where the intervention of the imperial power in deciding dogmatical disputes was approved by long practice. The eastern church also cited King Josiah in the Old Testament, who not only put down the living idolatrous priests, but also opened the sepulchers of those who died long before his reign and burned their bones upon the altar (II Kings 23:16). Thus the eastern church was willing to accept the decree and condemn the Three Chapters; the western church was not. In the end, Justinian’s decree never received general church recognition.
In order to attract the western church to his support Justinian had to secure first the approval of the Pope of Rome. Consequently the pope of that period, Vigilius, was summoned to Constantinople, where he remained for more than seven years. Upon his arrival he declared openly that he was against the edict and excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, Menas. But gradually he yielded to the influence of Justinian and Theodora, and in the year 548 he issued the condemnation of the Three Chapters, or the so-called “Judicatum,” thus adding his voice to the votes of the four eastern patriarchs. This was the last triumph of Theodora, who was convinced of the inevitable final victory of Monophysitism. She died in the same year. Upon the invitation of Vigilius, the priests of western Europe had to put up incessant prayers for “the most clement princes, Justinian and Theodora.”
The western church, however, did not approve of the concession made by Vigilius. The African bishops, having summoned a council, went even so far as to excommunicate him. Stirred by these events, the pope wavered in his decision and revoked the Judicatum. Justinian decided to resort to the aid of an ecumenical council, which was convoked in Constantinople in the year 553.
The problem of this Fifth Ecumenical Council was much simpler than the problems of the earlier councils. It did not have to deal with any new heresy; it was faced only with the problem of regulating some questions connected with the decisions of the third and fourth councils, relative partly to Nestorianism, but concerning primarily the Monophysitic faith. The Emperor was very desirous that the pope, who was in Constantinople at the time, be present at the Council, but under various excuses Vigilius avoided attending it, and all the sessions of the Council took place without him. The Council looked into the works of the three disputed writers and agreed with the opinion of the Emperor. The resolution of the Council condemned and anathematized “the impious Theodoret who was bishop of Mopsuestia, together with his impious works, and all that Theodoret had written impiously, and the impious letter, attributed to Ibas, and those who have written or are writing to defend them (ad defensionem eorum).” The decrees of this Council were declared obligatory, and Justinian instituted a policy of persecuting and exiling the bishops who did not agree with the condemnation of the Three Chapters. Pope Vigilius was exiled to one of the islands of the Sea of Marmora. In the end he consented to sign the condemnation and was then permitted to return to Rome, but he died on his way at Syracuse. The West did not accept the decisions of the Council of 553 until the end of the sixth century, and only when Gregory I the Great (590-604) proclaimed that “at the Synod, which was concerned with the Three Chapters, nothing was violated or in any way changed in the matter of religion,” was the Council of 553 recognized throughout the West as an ecumenical council on a par with the first four councils.
The intense religious struggle which Justinian expected would reconcile the Monophysites with the orthodox, did not bring the results he hoped for. The Monophysites did not seem satisfied with the concessions made to them. In the last years of his life Justinian apparently favored the Monophysites. The bishops who disagreed with him were exiled. Monophysitism might have become the state religion, obligatory on all, and this would have led to new and very serious complications. But at this time the aged Emperor died, and with his death came a change in the religious policy of the government.
In summarizing the religious and ecclesiastical policy of Justinian the question might be asked whether or not he succeeded in establishing a united church in the Empire. The answer must, of course, be in the negative. Orthodoxy and Monophysitism did not become reconciled; Nestorianism, Manichaeism, Judaism, and, to some extent, paganism, continued to exist. There was no religious unity, and Justinian’s attempt to bring it about must be admitted a failure.
But in speaking of Justinian’s religious policy we must not disregard his missionary activities. As a Christian emperor he considered it his duty to spread Christianity beyond the boundaries of his empire. The conversion of the Heruli on the Danube, and of some Caucasian tribes, as well as of the native tribes of Northern Africa and the Middle Nile occurred in Justinian’s time.
The internal policy of Justinian.
The Nika revolt. — At the time of Justinian’s accession to the throne the internal life of the Empire was in a state of disorder and disturbance. Poverty was widespread, especially in the provinces; taxes were not paid regularly. The factions of the circus, the large landowners, the relatives of Anastasius, robbed of their right to the throne, and finally, the dissenting religious groups increased the internal troubles and created an alarming situation.
When he mounted the throne, Justinian understood clearly that the internal life of the Empire was greatly in need of wide reforms, and he attacked this problem courageously. The main sources of information on this phase of Justinian’s activity are his Novels, the treatise of John the Lydian, On the Administration (Magistrates) of the Roman State, and The Secret History of his contemporary, Procopius. In recent times much valuable material has been found also in the papyri.
At the very beginning of his reign Justinian witnessed a frightful rebellion in the capital which nearly deprived him of the throne. The central quarter in Constantinople was the circus or the Hippodrome, the favorite gathering place of the inhabitants of the capital, so fond of chariot races. A new emperor, after his coronation, usually appeared at this Hippodrome in the imperial box, the Kathisma, to receive the first greetings of the mob. The charioteers wore robes of four colors: green, blue, white, and red. The chariot races had remained the favorite spectacle at the circus since the time when the early Christian church had prohibited gladiatorial combats. Well-organized factions were formed around the charioteers of each color. These groups had their own treasury for financing the charioteers, their horses and chariots, and always competed and struggled with the parties of other colors. They soon became known under the names of Green, Blue, White, and Red. The circus and the races, as well as the circus factions, came to the Byzantine Empire from the Roman Empire, and later literary tradition attributes their origin to the mythical times of Romulus and Remus. The original meaning of the names of the four parties is not very clear. The sources of the sixth century, Justinian’s period, claim that these names corresponded to the four elements: the earth (green), water (blue), air (white), and fire (red). The circus festivities were distinguished by extreme splendor and the number of spectators sometimes reached 50,000.
The circus factions, designated in the Byzantine period as demes, gradually changed into political parties expressing various political, social, or religious tendencies. The voice of the mob in the circus became a sort of public opinion and voice of the nation. “In the absence of the printing press,” said Th. I. Uspensky, “the Hippodrome became the only place for a free expression of public opinion, which at times imposed its will upon the government.” The emperor himself was sometimes obliged to appear in the circus to offer the people explanation of his actions.
In the sixth century the most influential factions were the Blues (Venetoi), who stood for orthodoxy, hence also called Chalcedonians, adherents of the Council of Chalcedon; and the Greens (Prasinoi), who stood for Monophysitism. In the time of Anastasius a rebellion had arisen against the Greens, whom the Monophysite emperor favored. After terrible raids and destruction the orthodox party proclaimed a new emperor and rushed to the Hippodrome, where the frightened Anastasius appeared without his diadem and ordered the heralds to announce to the people that he was ready to renounce his title. The mob, mollified at seeing the emperor in such a pitiful state, calmed down and the revolt subsided. But the episode illustrates the influence exerted by the Hippodrome and the mob of the capital upon the government and even the emperor himself. With the accession of Justin and Justinian orthodoxy prevailed, and the Blues triumphed. Theodora, however, favored the Greens, so that even on the imperial throne itself there was division.
It is almost certain that the demes represented not only political and religious tendencies, but also different class interests. The Blues may be regarded as the party of the upper classes, the Greens of the lower. If this is true, the Byzantine factions acquire a new and very important significance as a social element.
An interesting recurrence of pattern is to be found in the fact that early in the sixth century in Rome under Theodoric the Great two rival parties, the Greens and the Blues, continued to fight, the Blues representing the upper classes and the Greens the lower.
An important new approach to this question has recently been emphasized and discussed. A Russian scholar, the late A. Dyakonov, pointed out “the error in method” of Rambaud, Manojlović, and others who fail to differentiate between the demes and the factions, which of course are not identical at all and must be dealt with separately. The object of Dyakonov’s study was not to solve the problem, but to raise it again, so that this new approach may be considered in future more highly specialized works.
The causes of the formidable rebellion of 532 in the capital were numerous and diverse. The opposition directed against Justinian was threefold: dynastic, public, and religious. The surviving nephews of Anastasius felt that they had been circumvented by Justin’s, and later Justinian’s, accession to the throne, and, supported by the Monophysitical-minded party of the Greens, they aimed to depose Justinian. The public opposition arose from general bitterness against the higher officials, especially against the famous jurist, Tribonian, and the praetorian prefect, John of Cappadocia, who aroused great dissatisfaction among the people by their violation of laws and their shameful extortions and cruelty. Finally, the religious opposition was that of the Monophysites, who had suffered great restrictions during the early years of Justinian’s reign. All these causes together brought about a revolt of the people in the capital and it is interesting to note that the Blues and the Greens, abandoning for a time their religious discrepancies, made common cause against the hated government. The Emperor negotiated with the people through the herald in the Hippodrome, but no settlement was reached. The revolt spread rapidly through the city, and the finest buildings and monuments of art were subjected to destruction and fire. Fire was also set to the basilica of St. Sophia, the site of which was later chosen for the famous cathedral of Sr. Sophia. The rallying cry of the rioters, Nika, meaning “victory” or “vanquish,” has given this uprising the name of the Nika revolt. Justinian’s promise to dismiss Tribonian and John of Cappadocia from their posts and his personal appeal to the mob at the Hippodrome were of no effect. A nephew of Anastasius was proclaimed emperor. Sheltered in the palace, Justinian and his councilors were already contemplating flight when Theodora rose to the occasion. Her exact words appear in The Secret History of Procopius: “It is impossible for a man, when he has come into the world, not to die; but for one who has reigned, it is intolerable to be an exile … If you wish, O Emperor, to save yourself, there is no difficulty: we have ample funds; yonder is the sea, and there are the ships. Yet reflect whether, when you have once escaped to a place of security, you will not prefer death to safety. I agree with an old saying that the purple is a fair winding sheet.” The Emperor rallied and entrusted to Belisarius the task of crushing the revolt, which had already lasted for six days. The general drove the rioters into the Hippodrome, enclosed them there, and killed from thirty to forty thousand. The revolt was quelled, the nephews of Anastasius were executed, and Justinian once more sat firmly on the throne.
Taxation and financial problems. — One of the distinguishing features of Justinian’s internal policy was his obstinate, still not fully explained, struggle with the large landowners. This strife is discussed in the Novels and the papyri, as well as in The Secret History of Procopius, who, in spite of defending the views of the nobility and in spite of crowding into this libel a number of absurd accusations against Justinian, in his eyes an upstart on the imperial throne, still paints an extremely interesting picture of the social struggle in the sixth century. The government felt that its most dangerous rivals and enemies were the large landowners, who conducted the affairs of their large estates with complete disregard for the central power. One of Justinian’s Novels, blaming the desperate condition of state and private landownership in the provinces upon the unrestrained conduct of local magnates, directed to the Cappadocian proconsul the following significant lines: “News has come to us about such exceedingly great abuses in the provinces that their correction can hardly be accomplished by one person of high authority. And we are even ashamed to tell with how much impropriety the managers of landlords’ estates promenade about, surrounded by body-guards, how they are followed by large mobs of people, and how shamelessly they rob everything… State property has almost entirely gone over into private ownership, for it was robbed and plundered, including all the herds of horses, and not a single man spoke up against it, for all the mouths were stopped with gold,” It appears that the Cappadocian magnates had full authority in their provinces and that they even maintained troops of their own, armed men and bodyguards, and seized private as well as state lands. It is interesting to note also that this Novel was issued four years after the Nika revolt. Similar information about Egypt in the time of Justinian is found in the papyri. A member of a famous Egyptian landowning family, the Apions, possessed in the sixth century vast landed property in various parts of Egypt. Entire villages were part of his possessions. His household was almost regal. He had his secretaries and stewards, his hosts of workmen, his own assessors and tax collectors, his treasurer, his police, even his own postal service. Such magnates had their own prisons and maintained their own troops. Large estates were concentrated also in the hands of the churches and monasteries.
Against these large landowners Justinian waged a merciless struggle. By intervention in problems of heredity, forced and sometimes false donations to the Emperor, confiscation on the basis of false evidence, or the instigation of religious trials tending to deprive the church of its landed property, Justinian consciously and persistently aimed at the destruction of large land-ownership. Particularly numerous confiscations were made after the revolutionary attempt of the year 532. Justinian did not succeed, however, in completely crushing large landownership, and it remained one of the unfailing features of the life of the Empire in later periods.
Justinian saw and understood the defects of the administration expressed in the venality, theft, and extortions which caused so much poverty and ruin, and which inevitably aroused internal troubles. He realized that such a state of things within the Empire had evil effects upon social security, city finance, and agricultural conditions, and that financial disorder introduced general confusion into the life of the Empire. He was truly anxious to remedy the existing situation. He conceived it to be the emperor’s duty to introduce new and great reforms, which he viewed as an obligation of imperial service and an act of gratitude to God, who bestowed upon the emperor all his favors. But as a convinced representative of absolute imperial power, Justinian considered a centralized administration with an improved and completely obedient staff of bureaucrats the only means of ameliorating conditions in the Empire.
His attention turned first of all to the financial situation in the Empire, which very justly inspired extremely serious fears. The military undertakings demanded enormous means, yet taxes were coming into the treasury with constantly increasing difficulties. This fact alarmed the Emperor, and in one of his Novels he wrote that in view of the large war expenses his subjects “must pay the government taxes willingly and in full.” Thus, on the one hand, he was the champion of the inviolability of the rights of the treasury, while on the other hand he proclaimed himself me defender of the taxpayer against the extortions of officials.
Two great Novels of the year 535 are exceedingly important for the study of Justinian’s reforms. They contain the principal foundations of the administrative reforms and the definitions of the new duties of government officials. One Novel orders the rulers “to treat with fatherly consideration all the loyal citizens, to protect the subjects against oppression, to refuse all bribes, to be just in sentences and administrative decisions, to persecute crime, protect the innocent, and punish the guilty according to law, and, on the whole, treat the subjects as a father would treat his own children.” But at the same time officials, “while keeping their hands clean [of bribes] everywhere,” must vigilantly look after the government income, “increasing the state treasury and exerting all possible effort for its benefit.” Taking into consideration the conquest of Africa and the Vandals, as well as the newly contemplated campaigns, says the Novel, “it is imperative that the government taxes be paid in full and willingly at definite dates. Thus, if you will meet the rulers reasonably and help them collect for us the taxes with ease and dispatch, then we will laud the officials for their zeal and you for your wisdom; and beautiful and peaceful harmony will reign everywhere between the rulers and the ruled.” The officials had to take a solemn oath to administer their duties honestly, but were at the same time made responsible for the complete payment of taxes in the provinces entrusted to them. The bishops were supposed to watch the behavior of the officials. Those who were found guilty of offense were subject to severe punishment, while those who carried out their duties honestly were promised promotion. Thus, the duty of government officials and government taxpayers is very simple in Justinian’s conception: the former must be honest men; the latter must pay their taxes willingly, fully, and regularly. In subsequent decrees the Emperor often cited these basic principles of his administrative reforms.
Not all the provinces of the Empire were governed alike. There were some, especially those along the borders, populated by restless natives, which demanded firmer administration than others. The reforms of Diocletian and Constantine increased excessively the provincial division and established a vast staff of bureaucracy, separating very distinctly civil and military authority. In Justinian’s time, in some instances, there was a break with this system and a return to the former pre-Diocletian system. Justinian introduced the practice of combining several small provinces, particularly in the East, into larger units; while in some provinces of Asia Minor, in view of frequent disagreements and conflicts between military and civil authorities, he ordered the combining of the two functions in the hands of one person, a governor, who was called praetor. The Emperor’s particular attention was directed to Egypt, mainly to Alexandria, which supplied Constantinople with corn. According to one Novel, the organization of the trade in Egypt and the delivery of corn to the capital was in great disorder. With the aim of re-establishing this highly important branch of government life, Justinian entrusted a civil official, the Augustalis (vir spectabilis Augustalis), with military authority over the two Egyptian provinces as well as over Alexandria, that densely populated and restless city. But these attempts to centralize territories and power in the provinces were not systematic during his reign.
While carrying out the idea of combining authority in some of the eastern provinces, Justinian retained the former separation of civil and military power in the West, especially in the recently conquered prefectures of North Africa and Italy.
The Emperor hoped that his numerous hasty decrees had corrected all internal shortcomings of the administration and “given the empire, through his brilliant undertakings, a new period of bloom.” He was mistaken. All his decrees couid not change mankind. It is very evident from later novels that rebellions, extortion, and ruin continued. It became necessary to republish constantly imperial decrees to remind the population of their existence, and in some provinces it was occasionally necessary to proclaim martial law.
At times, when the need for money was very urgent, Justinian used the very measures which were prohibited in his decrees. He sold offices at high prices and, regardless of his promise to the contrary, introduced new taxes, though his Novels show clearly that he was fully aware of the incapacity of the population to meet them. Under the pressure of financial difficulties he resorted to the corruption of money and issued debased coin; but the attitude of the populace became so threatening that he was forced almost immediately to revoke his measure. All possible means were used to fill the government treasury, the fisc, “which took the place of a stomach feeding all parts of the body,” as Corippus, a poet of the sixth century, puts it. The strict measures which accompanied the collection of taxes reached their extreme limits and had a disastrous effect upon the exhausted population. One contemporary says that “a foreign invasion seemed less formidable to the taxpayers than the arrival of the officials of the fisc.” Villages became impoverished and deserted because their inhabitants fled from government oppression. The productivity of the land was reduced to nothing. Revolts sprang up in various localities.
Realizing that the Empire was ruined and that economy was the only means of salvation, Justinian resorted to economy in the most dangerous directions. He reduced the army in numbers, and frequently kept back its pay. But the army, consisting mainly of mercenaries, often revolted against this practice and took vengeance on the unprotected people. The reduction of the army had other serious consequences: it left the borders unprotected and the barbarians crossed the Byzantine boundaries freely to carry on their devastating raids. The fortresses constructed by Justinian were not maintained. Unable to oppose the barbarians by force, Justinian had to resort to bribes, which involved very large new expenditures. According to the French scholar, Diehl, this formed a vicious circle. Lack of money forced a decrease of the army; the absence of soldiers necessitated more money to buy off enemies.
When to all this was added the frequent famines, epidemics, and earthquakes which ruined the population and increased the demands for government aid, the state of the Empire at the end of Justinian’s reign was truly lamentable. Among these calamities the devastating plague of 542 must be mentioned. It began near Pelusium, on the borders of Egypt. The suggested Ethiopian origin is vague; there was a sort of ancient and traditional suspicion that disease usually came out of Ethiopia. As Thucydides studied the plague at Athens at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, so the historian Procopius, who witnessed its course at Constantinople, detailed the nature and effects of the bubonic disease. From Egypt the infection spread northward to Palestine and Syria; in the following year it reached Constantinople, then spread over Asia Minor and through Mesopotamia into Persia. Over the sea it invaded Italy and Sicily. In Constantinople the visitation lasted four months. The mortality was enormous; cities and villages were abandoned, agriculture stopped, and famine, panic, and the flight of large numbers of people away from the infected places threw the Empire into confusion. All court functions were discontinued. The Emperor himself was stricken by the plague, although the attack did not prove fatal. This was only one contributing factor to the gloomy picture reflected in the first Novel of Justin II, where he speaks of “the government treasury overburdened with many debts and reduced to extreme poverty,” and “of an army so desperately in need of all necessaries that the empire was easily and frequently attacked and raided by the barbarians.”
Justinian’s attempts in the field of administrative reform were a complete failure. Financially the Empire stood on the verge of ruin. There was a close connection between the internal and external policies of the Emperor; his sweeping military undertakings in the West, which demanded colossal expenditure, ruined the East and left his successors a troublesome heritage. As evinced by the early Novels, Justinian sincerely intended to bring order into the Empire and to raise the moral standards of government institutions, but these noble intentions gave way to the militarism dictated by his conception of his duties as heir of the Roman Caesars.
Commerce during the reign of Justinian.
The period of Justinian left distinct traces in the history of Byzantine commerce. In the Christian period, as in the days of the pagan Roman Empire, the main trade was carried on with the East. The rarest and most valuable articles of trade arrived from the distant lands of China and India. Western Europe of the earlier Middle Ages, in the period of the formation of new Germanic states, some of which were conquered by Justinian’s generals, lived under conditions extremely unfavorable for the development of its own economic life. The Eastern Roman Empire, with its advantageously situated capital became, by force of circumstances, the mediator between the West and the East, and kept this position until the period of the Crusades.
But the commercial relations of the Byzantine Empire with the peoples of the Far East were not direct; the mediating agent here was the Persian Empire of the Sassanids, which gained enormous profits on the commercial transactions of the Byzantine merchants. There were at this time two main trade routes: one by land, the other by sea. The overland caravan route led from the western borders of China through Sogdiana (now Bokhara or Bukhara) to the Persian border, where the wares were transferred by Chinese merchants to the Persians, who transported them to the customhouses on the Byzantine border. The sea route used was as follows: Chinese merchants transported their wares on vessels as far as the island of Taprobane (now Ceylon), south of the peninsula of Hindostan. There Chinese goods were reloaded, chiefly into Persian vessels, which carried their cargo by way of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates, whence they were forwarded along the Euphrates to the Byzantine customhouse situated on this river. Byzantine commerce with the East, therefore, depended very closely upon the relations between the Empire and Persia, and since wars with Persia were a regular occurrence in Byzantine life, trade relations with the East suffered constant interruptions and great harm. The main article of trade was Chinese silk, the production of which was guarded in deep secrecy by China. In view of the difficulties involved in its production, its prices and the prices of silk stuffs greatly in demand on Byzantine markets rose at times to unbelievable figures. Besides Chinese silk, China and India exported to the West perfumes, spices, cotton, precious stones, and other articles demanded primarily in the Byzantine Empire. Unreconciled to the economic dependence of the Byzantine Empire upon Persia, Justinian set himself the goal of finding a trade route to China and India which would lie outside of the realm of Persian influence.
Cosmas Indicopleustes.— During this period a remarkable literary work made its appearance, the Christian Topography or Cosmography, written by Cosmas Indicopleustes in the middle of the sixth century. This work is extremely valuable for the information it contains about the geography of the basins of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean as well as about the commercial relations with India and China.
Cosmas was born in Egypt, very likely in Alexandria. He engaged in commerce from his early youth, but, discontented with the trade conditions in his country, he undertook a number of distant Journeys during which he visited the shores of the Red Sea, the Sinaitic peninsula, Ethiopia (Abyssinia), and perhaps reached as far as Ceylon. He was a Christian of the Nestorian faith, and in his later life became a monk. His Greek surname, Indicopleustes, is found even in very old versions of his work.
The fundamental aim of The Christian Topography is to prove to the Christians that, regardless of the system of Ptolemy, the earth does not have the shape of a globe, but rather that of an oblong rectangular box similar to the sanctuary in the tabernacle of Moses, while the entire universe is analogous in form to the general form of the tabernacle. But it is the great historical importance of this work, which lies in the information about geography and commerce, which is relevant here. The author conscientiously informed his reader about the sources used and evaluated each of them thoroughly. He discriminated between his own observations as an eyewitness and the information obtained from eyewitnesses, and facts learned by hearsay. From his own experience he described the palace of the Abyssinian king in the city of Axum (in the so-called Kingdom of Axum), and gave an accurate account of several interesting inscriptions in Nubia and on the shores of the Red Sea. He told also of Indian and African animals, and, roost important of all, gave very valuable information about the island Taprobane (Ceylon), explaining its commercial importance during the early Middle Ages. It appears from this account that in the sixth century Ceylon was the center of world commerce between China on one hand and eastern Africa, Persia, and through Persia the Byzantine Empire, on the other hand. In Cosmas’ words, “the island, being as it is in a central position, is much frequented by ships from all parts of India and from Persia and Ethiopia.” The Persian Christians who remained permanently on this island were of the Nestorian faith and had their own church and clergy.
It is interesting to note that in spite of an almost complete absence of direct trade relations between the Byzantine Empire and India, Byzantine coins from the epoch of Constantine the Great appear in Indian markets, carried there apparently, not by Byzantine merchants, but by the mediating Persians and Abyssinians (Axumites). Coins with the names of the Byzantine emperors of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries — Arcadius, Theodosius, Marcian, Leo I, Zeno, Anastasius I, Justin I — have been found in southern and northern India. In the international economic life of the sixth century the Byzantine Empire played a role so important that, according to Cosmas, “all the nations carry on their trade in Roman money (the Byzantine gold coin, nomisma or solidus), from one extremity of the earth to the other. This money is regarded with admiration by all men to whatever kingdom they belong, since there is no other country in which the like of it exists.”
Cosmas told a very interesting story which shows the profound respect commanded in India by the Byzantine gold coin (nomisma):
The King of Ceylon, having admitted a Byzantine merchant, Sopatrus, and some Persians to an audience and having received their salutations, requested them to be seated. He then asked them; “In what state are your countries, and how go things with them?” To this they replied: “They go well.” Afterward, as the conversation proceeded, the King inquired: “Which of your kings is the greater and the more powerful?” The elderly Persian, snatching the word, answered: “Our king is both the more powerful and the greater and richer, and indeed is King of Kings, and whatsoever he desires, that he is able to do.” Sopatrus, on the other hand, sat mute. So the King asked: “Have you, Roman, nothing to say?” “What have I to say,” he rejoined, “when he there has said such things? But if you wish to learn the truth you have the two kings here present. Examine each and you will see which of them is the grander and the more powerful.” The King, upon hearing this, was amazed at his words and asked: “How say you that I have both kings here?” “You have,” replied Sopatrus, “the money of both — the nomisma of one, and the drachma, that is, the miliarision of the other. Examine the image of each and you will see the truth…” After having examined them, the King said that the Romans were certainly a splendid, powerful, and sagacious people. So he ordered great honor to be paid to Sopatrus, causing him to be mounted on an elephant and conducted round the city with drums beating and high state. These circumstances were told us by Sopatrus himself and his companions, who had accompanied him to that island from Adule; and as they told the story, the Persian was deeply chagrined at what had occurred.
In addition to the historical-geographical value, the work of Cosmas is also of great artistic value because of the numerous pictures (miniatures) which adorn his text. It is likely that some of these pictures were the work of the author himself. The original manuscript of the sixth century has not survived, but the later manuscripts of The Christian Topography contain copies of the original miniatures and thus serve as a valuable source for the history of early Byzantine, especially Alexandrine, art. “The miniatures in the work of Cosmas,” said N. P. Kondakov, “are more characteristic of Byzantine art of the period of Justinian, or rather of the brilliant part of his reign, than any other monument of that period, except some of the mosaics at Ravenna.”
The work of Cosmas was later translated into Slavonic and became widely spread among the Slavs. There exist numerous Russian versions of The Christian Topography supplemented with the portrait of Cosmas Indicopleustes and numerous pictures and miniatures which are of much interest in the history of old Russian art.
Protection of Byzantine commerce. — Justinian made it his aim to free Byzantine commerce of its dependence on Persia. This involved establishing direct communication with India by way of the Red Sea. The northeastern corner of the Red Sea (in the Gulf of Akaba) was occupied by the Byzantine port, Ayla, whence Indian wares could be transported by a land route through Palestine and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea. Another port, Clysma (near present-day Suez), was situated on the northwestern shore of the Red Sea, and from it was directly connected with the Mediterranean Sea. On one of the islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Akaba, Iotabe (now Tiran), near the southern extremity of the Sinai peninsula, a customhouse for bygoing vessels was established during Justinian’s reign. But the number of Byzantine ships in the Red Sea was not sufficient for carrying on a regulated commerce. This fact forced Justinian to establish close relations with the Christian Abyssinians in the Kingdom of Axum, urging them to buy silk in India and then resell it to the Byzantine Empire. He apparently wanted them to play the part of trade mediators between the Byzantine Empire and India, as the Persians had done up to that time. But these attempts on the part of the Emperor were not successful, for the Abyssinian merchants could not compete with Persian influence in India and the monopoly of silk buying still remained in the hands of Persian merchants. In the end Justinian did not succeed in opening up new routes for direct trade with the East. In intervals of peace the Persians still remained the mediators in the most important trade, and continued to make large profits.
Chance came to the aid of Justinian and helped him solve the highly significant problem of the Empire’s silk trade. Some person or persons successfully evaded the watchfulness of the Chinese inspectors and smuggled into the Byzantine Empire some silkworm eggs from Serinda, which formed the basis of a new industry for the Greeks. They made rapid progress. Large plantations of mulberry trees sprang up and many factories for weaving silk stuffs were quickly established. The most important of these silk factories were situated in Constantinople; others were founded in the Syrian cities of Beirut, Tyre, and Antioch, and later in Greece, mainly at Thebes. One existed in Alexandria in Egypt, for Egyptian clothes were sold in Constantinople. The silk industry became a state monopoly and yielded the government a large income, which was not sufficient, however, to ameliorate the critical financial situation of the empire. Byzantine silk stuffs were carried to all parts of western Europe and adorned the palaces of western kings and the residences of rich merchants. This caused some highly significant changes in the commerce of Justinian’s period, and his successor, Justin II, could show to a Turkish ambassador visiting his court the industry in full swing.
Justinian undertook the colossal task of defending the Empire from the attacks of enemies by constructing a number of fortresses and well-protected border lines. In a few years he erected on all the borders of the Empire an almost uninterrupted line of fortifications (castella) in northern Africa, on the shores of the Danube and Euphrates, in the mountains of Armenia, and on the distant Crimean peninsula, thus restoring and enlarging the remarkable defensive system created by Rome during an earlier period. By this constructive work Justinian, according to Procopius, “saved the empire.” “If we were to enumerate the fortresses,” Procopius wrote in On Buildings, “which were erected here by the Emperor Justinian, to people living in distant foreign lands, deprived of the opportunity to verify personally our words, I am convinced that the number of constructions would seem to them fabulous and completely incredible,” Even today the existing ruins of numerous fortresses along the borders of the former Byzantine Empire astonish the modern traveler. Nor did Justinian limit his construction to fortifications alone. As a Christian emperor he fostered the building of many temples, of which the incomparable St. Sophia of Constantinople stands out as an epoch-making mark in the history of Byzantine art. St. Sophia is described later. In all likelihood he carried his construction even to the mountains of the far-off Crimea, and erected there a great church (basilica), in Dory, the chief center of the Gothic settlement. A fragment of an inscription with his name has been excavated there.
Immediate successors of Justinian.
When the powerful figure of Justinian disappeared from the stage of history, his entire artificial system of government, which had temporarily kept the empire in proper balance, fell to ruin. “At his death,” said Bury, “the winds were loosed from prison; the disintegrating elements began to operate with full force; the artificial system collapsed; and the metamorphosis in the character of the empire, which had been surely progressing for a long time past, though one is apt to overlook it amid the striking events of Justinian’s busy reign, now began to work rapidly and perceptibly.” The time between the years 565 and 610 belongs to one of the most cheerless periods in Byzantine history, when anarchy, poverty, and plagues raged throughout the Empire. The confusion of this period caused John of Ephesus, the historian of the time of Justin II, to speak of the approaching end of the world. “There is perhaps no period of history,” said Finlay, “in which society was so universally in a state of demoralization.” The events of this period, however, show that this deplorable picture is somewhat exaggerated and therefore is to be rectified.
The successors of Justinian were: Justin II the Younger (565-78), Tiberius II (578-82), Maurice (582-602), and Phocas (602-10). The most outstanding of these four rulers was the energetic soldier and able leader, Maurice. Sophia, the strong-willed wife of Justin II who greatly resembled Theodora, exerted much influence on government affairs. The most significant events in the external affairs of the Empire during this period were the Persian War, the struggle with the Slavs and Avars in the Balkan peninsula, and the Lombard conquest of Italy. In the internal life of the Empire the firmly orthodox policy of the emperors and the formation of two exarchates were significant.
The Persian wars.
The fifty years’ truce with Persia established by Justinian in 562 was broken by Justin II, who refused to continue the payment of the set annual sum. A common hostility to Persia developed interesting relations between the Byzantine Empire and the Turks, who had appeared shortly before this period in Western Asia and along the shores of the Caspian Sea. They occupied the territory between China and Persia; the latter they viewed as their main enemy. Turkish ambassadors crossed the Caucasian Mountains, and after a long journey reached Constantinople, where they were accorded an amiable reception. Tentative plans began to develop for an offensive and defensive Turco-Byzantine alliance against Persia. The Turkish embassy made a very interesting proposal to the Byzantine government to mediate in the silk trade with China, avoiding Persian interference — the very thing Justinian had striven to attain, the only difference being that Justinian had hoped to arrange this by a southern sea route with the aid of the Abyssinians while the Turks were considering the northern land route. Negotiations however did not culminate in the formation of a real alliance for combined action against Persia, because the Byzantine Empire at the end of the sixties was more concerned with western developments, particularly in Italy where the Lombards were attacking. Besides, Justin considered the Turkish military forces rather inadequate.
The result of the short-lived Roman-Turkish friendship was tension between Byzantium and Persia. During the reigns of Justin, Tiberius, and Maurice an almost continuous war was conducted against the Persians. During the reign of Justin II this was very unsuccessful for Byzantium. The siege of Nisibis was abandoned, the Avars from beyond the Danube invaded the Byzantine provinces in the Balkans, and Daras, an important fortified border town, after a siege of six months passed into the hands of the Persians. This loss so deeply impressed the weak-minded Justin that he became insane, and it was the Empress Sophia who, by paying 45,000 pieces of gold, obtained the respite of a year’s truce (574). A Syrian chronicle of the twelfth century, based of course on an earlier source, remarked: “On learning that Daras had been captured ... the emperor was in despair. He ordered shops to be closed and commerce to cease.”
The Persian war under Tiberius and Maurice was more successful for the Byzantine Empire because Maurice’s able leadership was aided by internal dispute in Persia for the throne. Maurice’s peace treaty was of great importance; Persarmenia and eastern Mesopotamia, with the city of Daras, were ceded to Byzantium; the humiliating condition of annual tribute was canceled; and finally, the Empire, free of the Persian menace, was able to concentrate its attention on western affairs, especially on the unceasing attacks of the Avars and Slavs in the Balkan peninsula. Another war with Persia began under the reign of Phocas, but the discussion of this war is deferred because, while it was of exceedingly great importance to the Byzantine Empire it was not concluded until the reign of Heraclius.
Slavs and Avars.
Very important events took place in the Balkan peninsula after the death of Justinian, although unfortunately present knowledge of them is limited by the fragmentary material that appears in the sources. During Justinian’s reign the Slavs frequently attacked the provinces of the Balkan peninsula, penetrating far into the south and threatening at times even the city of Thessalonica. These irruptions continued after Justinian’s death. There were then large numbers of Slavs remaining in the Byzantine provinces, and they gradually occupied the peninsula. They were aided in their aggression by the Avars, a people of Turkish origin living at that time in Pannonia. The Slavs and Avars menaced the capital and the shores of the Sea of Marmora and the Aegean, and penetrated into Greece as far as the Peloponnesus. The rumor of these invasions spread to Egypt, where John, bishop of Nikiu, wrote in the seventh century, during the reign of the Emperor Phocas: “It is recounted that the kings of this epoch had by means of the barbarians and the foreign nations and the Illyrians devastated Christian cities and carried off their inhabitants captive, and that no city escaped save Thessalonica only; for its walls were strong, and through the help of God the nations were unable to get possession of it.” A German scholar of the early nineteenth century held the theory, discussed at length later, that at the end of the sixth century the Greeks were completely destroyed by the Slavs. Studies of the problem of Slavic settlement in the Balkan peninsula depend greatly upon the Acts of the martyr Demetrius, the protector of Thessalonica, one of the main Slavonic centers in the peninsula.
At the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century the persistent southward movement of the Slavs and Avars, which Byzantine troops were unable to stop, produced a profound ethnographic change in the peninsula, since it became occupied largely by Slavonic settlers. The writers of this period were, in general, poorly acquainted with the northern tribes and they confuse the Slavs and Avars because they attacked the Empire jointly.
After the death of Justinian, Italy was insufficiently protected against the attacks of enemies, which explains the ease and speed with which it was again conquered by a new German barbarian tribe, the Lombards, who appeared there only a few years after Justinian had destroyed the Ostrogothic kingdom. In the middle of the sixth century the Lombards, in alliance with the Avars, destroyed the kingdom of the barbarian tribe of the Gepids (Gepidae) on the Middle Danube. Later, perhaps in fear of their own allies, they advanced from Pannonia into Italy under the leadership of their king (konung), Alboin, moving with their wives and children. They included many different tribes, among whom the Saxons were particularly numerous. Popular tradition has accused Narses, a former general in Justinian’s army and the aged ruler of Italy, of having invited the Lombards into his country, but this accusation must be considered unfounded. After the accession of Justin II he retired because of old age and died shortly after in Rome, In the year 568 the Lombards entered northern Italy. A wild barbaric horde, Arian by faith, they laid waste all the localities through which they passed, They soon conquered northern Italy, which became known as Lombardy. The Byzantine ruler, lacking sufficient means for resisting them, remained within the walls of Ravenna, which the barbarians by-passed as they moved on to the south. Their large hordes dispersed over almost the entire peninsula, occupying the unprotected cities with great ease. They reached southern Italy and soon occupied Benevento (Beneventum). Though they did not capture Rome, they surrounded the Roman province on three sides: from the north. east, and south. They cut off all connections between Ravenna and Rome, so that Rome could hope for no help there and still less for help from the even more distant rulers of Constantinople, who were passing through one of the most difficult and troubled periods in the history of the East. The Lombards had soon founded in Italy a large Germanic kingdom. Tiberius, and even more earnestly Maurice, tried to establish an alliance with the Frankish king Childebert II (570-595) in the hope of inducing him to open hostilities against the Lombards in Italy, but the effort ended in failure. Several embassies were exchanged, and Childebert did several times send troops to Italy, but always with the aim of reconquering the ancient Frankish possessions for himself rather than with the intention of helping Maurice. More than a century and a half was to elapse before the Frankish kings, summoned by the pope not the Emperor, were able to destroy the Lombard domination in Italy. Left to its own fate, Rome, which withstood more than one Lombard siege, found its protector in the person of the pope, who was forced not only to care for the spiritual life of his Roman flock but also to organize the defense of the city against the Lombards. It was at this time, at the end of the sixth century, that the Roman Church produced one of its most remarkable leaders, pope Gregory I, the Great. He had earlier been papal apocrisiarius or nuncio at Constantinople, where he resided some six years without succeeding in mastering even the rudiments of the Greek language. But in spite of this linguistic deficiency he was very well acquainted with the life and policies of Constantinople.
The Lombard conquest of Italy demonstrated clearly the impotence of Justinian’s external policy in the West, where the Empire did not possess sufficient forces for maintaining the conquered Ostrogothic kingdom. It also laid the foundation for the gradual alienation of Italy from the Byzantine Empire and for the weakening of the imperial political authority in Italy.
The successors of Justinian favored orthodoxy and the Monophysites were at times — as during the reign of Justin II — subjected to extremely severe persecution. Relations between the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Church during the reign of Maurice and Phocas are interesting to consider. Gregory protested against the assumption by the Bishop of Constantinople of the title “ecumenical” and, in a letter to Maurice, Gregory accused the patriarch, John the Faster, of haughtiness:
I am compelled to cry aloud and say O tempora! O mores! When all of Europe is given over to the power of barbarians, when cities are destroyed, camps overthrown, provinces depopulated, when the husbandman no longer tills the soil, when idol-worshippers are raging and contending for the slaughter of the faithful — and then priests, who ought to lie weeping on the ground and in ashes, seek for themselves names of vanity and glory in new and profane titles. Do I, in this matter, most pious Lord, defend my own cause? Do I resent my own special wrong? Nay, I defend the cause of Almighty God and the cause of the Universal Church. He is to be coerced, who does wrong to the Holy Universal Church, who swells in heart, who covets in a name of singularity, who also puts himself above the dignity of your Empire through a title peculiar to himself.
The pope did not attain the desired concession, and for a time even ceased to send his representative to Constantinople. When in the year 602 a revolution broke out in the capital against Maurice, Pope Gregory addressed a letter to the new emperor, Phocas, in terms quite unbefitting this foolish tyrant on the Byzantine throne:
Glory be to God in the highest… Let the heaven rejoice, and let the earth be glad (Ps. 95:11). Let the whole people of the republic hitherto afflicted exceedingly, grow cheerful for your benignant deeds! … Let every single person’s liberty be now at length restored to him under the yoke of the pious empire. For there is this difference between the kings of other nations and the emperors: that the kings are lords of slaves, but the emperors of the Roman state are lords of freemen.
Phocas was apparently pleased, for later he forbade the patriarch of Constantinople to bear the ecumenical title, declaring that “the apostolic throne of the blessed apostle Peter was the head of all churches.”
Thus while Phocas suffered defeat in all his external and internal undertakings and inspired the deep wrath and irritation of his subjects, his relations with Rome, based on his concessions to the pope, were peaceful and friendly throughout his reign. In memory of these friendly relations the exarch of Ravenna erected in the Roman Forum a column with laudatory inscriptions to Phocas. This monument is still in existence.
Formation of the exarchates and the revolution of 610.
In connection with the Lombard conquest an important change took place in the government of Italy, which, together with a similar contemporary innovation in the administration of North Africa, laid the foundation for the new provincial administration of the Empire: the so-called system of themes. The Byzantine authorities in Italy had not been able to offer the proper resistance to the Lombards, who conquered two-thirds of the peninsula with great ease. Therefore in the face of great danger, the Byzantine government determined to strengthen its power in Italy by placing the civil administrative functions in the hands of the military rulers. Byzantine administration in Italy was to be headed by a military governor-general, the exarch, who was to direct the activities of all civil officials from his residence at Ravenna, The formation of the Ravenna exarchate dates back to the end of the sixth century, to the period of Emperor Maurice. This combination of administrative and judicial functions with military authority did not involve the immediate abolition of civil officials. They continued to exist along with the military rulers, but acted under the guidance of the military exarch. Only later the civil officials seem to have been completely replaced by military authorities. The exarch, as a representative of imperial power, followed in his administration certain principles of Caesaropapism, so much favored by the emperors. This policy was expressed in such acts, for example, as the interference as a final authority in the religious affairs of the exarchate. Unlimited in his power, the exarch was given imperial honors. His palace at Ravenna was considered sacred and called Sacrum palatium, a name usually applied only to an imperial residence. Whenever he arrived at Rome, he was accorded an imperial reception: the senate, the clergy, and the populace met him outside the city walls in triumphant procession. All military affairs, the entire administration, judicial and financial matters — all were at the full disposal of the exarch.
Just as the Ravennese exarchate arose because of the attacks of the Lombards in Italy, so the formation of the African exarchate in the place of the former Vandal kingdom was called forth by a similar menace on the part of the native African Moors, or, as they are sometimes called in sources, the Maurusii (Berbers), who frequently engaged in serious uprisings against the Byzantine troops who occupied that country. The beginning of the African, or Carthaginian, exarchate (often called so because the residence of the exarch was at Carthage) dates also from the end of the sixth century, the time of Emperor Maurice. The African exarchate was founded on the same principles as its predecessor at Ravenna, and was endowed with similar unlimited power.
Naturally, it was only extreme necessity that could force the Emperor to create such an unlimited office as that of the exarch, who, granting the desire and the presence of certain conditions, could become a very dangerous rival of the Emperor himself. And in reality the African exarch was to raise the banner of sedition against Phocas, and the son of the exarch was to become emperor in the year 610. In Africa the exarchs were chosen very wisely by Maurice and demonstrated much skill and energy in governing the land, defending it successfully against the attacks of the natives. On the other hand, the exarchs of Ravenna were unable to overcome the Lombard menace.
According to the French scholar, Diehl, the two exarchates must be viewed as the beginning of the theme (province or district) organization, that provincial reform in the Byzantine Empire which started in the seventh century and spread gradually through the entire territory of the Empire. Its distinguishing feature was the gradual dominance of the military authority over the civil. While the attacks of the Lombards and Moors produced significant changes in the West and the South at the end of the sixth century, the attacks of the Persians and Arabs caused later the introduction of similar measures in the East, and the onslaught of the Slavs and Bulgars resulted in the same reforms in the Balkan peninsula.
The unsuccessful external policy of Phocas in regard to the Avars and the Persians, as well as the bloody terror which was his only means of maintaining his position, finally resulted in the revolt of the African exarch, Heraclius. Egypt soon joined in this revolt, and the African fleet under the direction of the exarch’s son, also named Heraclius, sailed forth to the capital, which deserted Phocas and came over to the side of Heraclius. Phocas was captured and executed. Heraclius, the son, ascended the Byzantine throne and thus started a new dynasty.
The problem of the Slavs in Greece.
As a result of the investigation of sources on the Slavonic invasions into the Balkan peninsula in the second half of the sixth century, a theory of the complete Slavonization of Greece arose in the early part of the nineteenth century and aroused heated disputes among scholars.
In the twenties of the last century, when all of Europe was seized with deep sympathy for the Greeks who had raised the banner of revolt against the Turkish yoke, when these champions of freedom, through their heroic resistance, succeeded in maintaining their independence and created, with the help of European powers, an independent Greek kingdom, when enthusiastic European society viewed these heroes as sons of ancient Hellas and recognized in them the traits of Leonidas, Epaminondas, and Philopoemen — then it was that from a small German town came a voice which astonished Europe by declaring that not one drop of real Hellenic blood runs through the veins of the inhabitants of the new Greek kingdom; that all the magnanimous impulse of Europe to aid the cause of the children of sacred Hellas was founded on a misunderstanding; and that the ancient Greek element had long ago disappeared and been replaced by new, entirely alien ethnographical elements, chiefly of Slavonic and Albanian origin. The man who ventured to advance openly and boldly this new theory, which shocked to the utmost the beliefs of contemporary Europe, was Fallmerayer, at that time professor of general history in one of the German lyceums.
In the first volume of his History of the Peninsula of Morea in the Middle Ages, which appeared in 1830, Fallmerayer wrote:
The Hellenic race in Europe is completely exterminated. The physical beauty, the sublimity of spirit, the simplicity of customs, the artistic creativeness, the races, cities, and villages, the splendor of columns and temples, even the name of the people itself, have disappeared from the Greek continent. A double layer of ruins and the mire of two new and different races cover the graves of the ancient Greeks. The immortal works of the spirit of Hellas and some ancient ruins on native Greek soil are now the only evidence of the fact that long ago there was such a people as the Hellenes. And were it not for these ruins, grave-hills and mausoleums, were it not for the site and the wretched fate of its inhabitants, upon whom the Europeans of our day in an outburst of human emotions have poured all their tenderness, their admiration, their tears, and their eloquence, we would have to say that it was only an empty vision, a lifeless image, a being outside the nature of things that has aroused the innermost depths of their souls. For not a single drop of real pure Hellenic blood flows in the veins of the Christian population of modern Greece, A terrific hurricane has dispersed throughout the space between the Ister and most distant corner of the Peloponnesus a new tribe akin to the great Slavonic race. The Scythian Slavs, the Illyrian Arnauts, children of Northern lands, the blood relations of the Serbs and Bulgars, the Dalmatians and Moscovites — those are the people whom we call Greeks at present and whose genealogy, to their own surprise, we have traced back to Pericles and Philopoemen ... A population with Slavonic facial features and with bow-shaped eyelashes and sharp features of Albanian mountain shepherds, of course, did not come from the blood of Narcissus, Alcibiades, and Antmous; and only a romantic eager imagination can still dream of a revival in our days of the ancient Hellenes with their Sophocleses and Platos.
It was Fallmerayer’s opinion that the Slavonic invasions of the sixth century created a situation in which the Byzantine Empire, without actually having lost a single province, could consider as its subjects only the population of the seacoast provinces and fortified cities. The appearance of the Avars in Europe was an epoch-making event in the history of Greece because they brought with them the Slavs and spurred them on to conquer the sacred soil of Hellas and the Peloponnesus.
Fallmerayer based his theory primarily on the data found in the writings of the church historian of the late sixth century, Evagrius, who wrote: “The Avars twice made an inroad as far as the Long Wall and captured Singidunum [Belgrade], Anchialus, and all of Greece, with other towns and fortresses, laying everything waste with fire and sword, while the greater part of the forces were engaged in the East.” It was this mention of all of Greece in Evagrius that gave Fallmerayer a basis for speaking of the extermination of the Greek nation in the Peloponnesus. The “Avars” of Evagrius did not confuse this German scholar, for at that period the Avars attacked the Byzantine Empire conjointly with the Slavs. This particular invasion which Fallmerayer referred to the year 589, did not exterminate the Greeks completely. The final blow to the Greek population came, as Fallmerayer believed, with the importation of the plague from Italy in the year 746. Reference to this is found in the famous quotation from the imperial writer of the tenth century, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who remarked that after this terrible plague “the entire land was slavonized and became barbarian.” The year when Emperor Constantine Copronymus died (775) Fallmerayer estimated, may be considered the final date when the desolate land became once more, and at this time completely, filled with Slavs, who gradually covered Greece with their new cities, towns, and villages.
In a later work Fallmerayer applied his conclusions to Attica without any real basis. In the second volume of his History of the Peninsula of Morea he advanced a new Albanian theory, according to which the Greek-Slavs who inhabited Greece were displaced and crushed by Albanian settlers during the second quarter of the fourteenth century, so that the Greek revolution of the nineteenth century was in reality the work of Albanian hands.
The first serious opponent of Fallmerayer was the German historian, Carl Hopf, who had studied thoroughly the problem of the Slavs in Greece and published a History of Greece from the Beginning of the Middle Ages to Our Own Times, in 1867. But Hopf fell into the other extreme because of his desire to reduce the significance of the Slavonic element in Greece at all costs. In his judgment, Slavonic settlements in Greece proper existed only from the year 750 until 807; previous to 750 there were none. Hopf showed that Fallmerayer’s opinions on the Slavonization of Attica were based on a false document.
The abundant literature on this subject, often contradictory and inconsistent in its nature, gives enough basis, however, for concluding that Slavonic settlements of very considerable size existed in Greece from the end of the sixth century, though they resulted neither in pan-Slavonization nor in the complete extermination of the Greeks. Moreover, various sources mention the presence of Slavs in Greece, primarily in the Peloponnesus, during all of the Middle Ages up to the fifteenth century. The most important source on the Slavonic penetration of the Balkan Peninsula is the Acta of St. Demetrius, mentioned above. This was properly used neither by Fallmerayer nor by Hopf; in fact, it has not been adequately investigated up to the present day.
Scholars have frequently disputed the originality of Fallmerayer’s theory. His opinion was nothing new. Slavonic influence in Greece had been spoken of before his time, though he was the first to express his judgments decisively and openly. In 1913 a Russian scholar stated on good grounds that the real originator of Fallmerayer’s theory was Kopitar, a scholar of Slavonic studies in Vienna in the nineteenth century, who developed in his writings the idea of the significant part played by the Slavic element in the formation of the new Greek nation. He did not, it is true, develop this theory in detail; but neither did he create a sensation by an unscholarly paradox. “The extremes of Fallmerayer’s theory,” Petrovsky said, “cannot at present be defended after a thorough study of the problems pertaining to it; but the theory itself, harmoniously and vividly expounded by the author, has a right to claim the attention even of those historians who disagree with it either entirely or partially.” Without question, this theory, in spite of some very obvious exaggerations, has played a very important part in the science of history by directing scholarly attention to a most interesting and at the same time most obscure question, the problem of the Slavs in Greece during the Middle Ages. The writings of Fallmerayer assume still wider general historical significance when viewed as the work of the first scholar who devoted his attention to the ethnographical transformations during the Middle Ages, not only in Greece, but in the Balkan Peninsula in general. At present in Soviet Russia the thesis of early penetration and settlement of the Slavs in the Balkan Peninsula is strongly supported. In contemporary Russian magazines, such as the Historical Journal and the Messenger of Ancient History, several articles on this subject have appeared. Fallmerayer is very popular with Russian historians, who proclaim that his work has not been adequately appreciated. The modern Slavophile movement in Soviet Russia seems even stronger than the similar movement of some hundred years ago, mentioned in the first chapter of this book.
Literature, learning, and art.
Reflecting Justinian’s multifarious activities, which amazed even his contemporaries, the epoch between 518 and 610 resulted in an abundant heritage in various branches of learning and literature. The Emperor himself attempted literary creation in the fields of dogmatics and hymnology. Maurice also displayed a taste for letters; he not only patronized but also stimulated literature, and often spent a great part of the night discussing or meditating on questions of poetry or history. This period produced several historians, whom Justinian’s enterprises provided with a wealth of material.
The special historian of Justinian’s period was Procopius of Caesarea, who has given a complete and well-rounded picture of the reign. Educated for the law, Procopius was appointed adviser and secretary to the famous general Belisarius, with whom he shared the campaigns against the Vandals, the Goths, and the Persians. He stands out both as historian and as writer. As a historian he was in a most advantageous position with regard to sources and firsthand information. His closeness to Belisarius gave him access to all official documents kept in the offices and archives, while his active participation in the campaigns and his excellent knowledge of the country gave him highly valuable living material based on personal observation and on information obtained from contemporaries.
In style and presentation Procopius frequently followed the classical historians, especially Herodotus and Thucydides. In spite of his dependence upon the Old Greek language of the ancient historians, and in spite of some artificiality of exposition, Procopius had a figurative, lucid, and vigorous style. He wrote three main works. The largest of these is The History in Eight Books, containing accounts of Justinian’s wars with the Persians, Vandals, and Goths as well as accounts of many other sides of government life. The author spoke of the Emperor in a slightly laudatory tone, but in numerous instances he expresses the bitter truth. This work may be called a general history of Justinian’s time. The second work of Procopius, On Buildings, is an unmitigated panegyric of the Emperor, probably written at his command, the main object of which is to give an account and description of the multitude of edifices erected by Justinian in all parts of his vast empire. In spite of rhetorical exaggerations and excessive praise, this work contains an abundance of geographical, topographical, and financial material, and serves therefore as a valuable source in the study of the social and economic history of the Empire. The third work of Procopius, Anecdota, or The Secret History (Historia Arcana), is distinctly different from the other two. It is a vicious libel upon the despotic rule of Justinian and his wife Theodora in which the author flings mud not only at the imperial couple but also at Belisarius and his wife, and in which Justinian is represented as the author of all the misfortunes which occurred in the Empire during this period. The contrast between this work and the other two is so striking that some scholars began to question the authenticity of The Secret History, for it seemed impossible that all three works had been composed by one and the same man. Only after a careful comparative study of The Secret History with all other sources pertaining to Justinian’s epoch was it definitely decided that the work was really an authentic work of Procopius. When properly used, this work serves as an extremely valuable source on the internal history of the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century. Thus, all the works of Procopius, in spite of their exaggerations of the virtue or vice of Justinian’s deeds, constitute a highly significant contemporary source for a closer acquaintance with the life of the period. But this is not all. Slavonic history and Slavonic antiquity find in Procopius invaluable information about the life and beliefs of the Slavs, while the Germanic peoples gather from him many facts about their early history.
A contemporary of Justinian and Procopius, the historian Peter the Patrician, a brilliant lawyer and diplomat, was repeatedly sent as ambassador to the Persian Empire and to the Ostrogothic court, where he was kept as prisoner for three years. His writings consisted of Histories, or A History of the Roman Empire, narrating, if one may judge by the extensive fragments in which alone it has survived, events from the second Triumvirate (from Augustus) to the time of Julian the Apostate, and a treatise On the State Constitution (Katastasis or Book of Ceremonies), part of which was included in the famous work of the time of Constantine Porphyrogenitus in the tenth century, The Book of Court Ceremonies.
From Procopius until the early part of the seventh century there was a continuous line of historical writings, and each historian carried on the work of those who preceded him.
Procopius was followed directly by the well-educated lawyer, Agathias, of Asia Minor, who left, in addition to some short poems and epigrams, the somewhat artificially written work, On the Reign of Justinian, which embraces the period from 552 to 558. Following Agathias, Menander the Protector wrote in the time of Maurice, his History which was a continuation of Agathias’ work, and related events from the year 558 until 582, i.e., up to the year of the accession of Maurice. Only fragments of this work are in existence today, but they give a sufficient basis for judging the importance of this source, particularly from the geographic and ethnographic point of view; they offer sufficient indication that he was a better historian than Agathias. The work of Menander was continued by Theophylact Simocatta, an Egyptian, who lived during the period of Heraclius and occupied the position of imperial secretary. Besides a small work on natural science and a collection of letters, he also wrote a history of the period of Maurice (582-602). The style of Theophylact is overcharged with allegories and artificial expressions to a much greater extent than that of his immediate predecessors. “In comparison with Procopius and Agathias,” says Krumbacher, “he is the peak of a rapidly rising curve. The historian of Belisarius, in spite of bombast, is still simple and natural; more abounding in poetical flowery expressions is the poet Agathias; but both these writers seem quite unaffected in comparison with Theophylact, who surprises the reader at every turn with new, unexpected flashes of far-fetched images, allegories, aphorisms, and mythological and other subtleties.” But in spite of all this Theophylact is an excellent major source on the time of Maurice, and he also gives extremely valuable information about Persia and the Slavs in the Balkan peninsula at the end of the sixth century.
Justinian’s ambassador to the Saracens and Abyssinians, Nonnosus, wrote a description of his distant journey. Time has preserved only one fragment, which is found in the works of the Patriarch Photius; but even this fragment gives excellent data on the nature and ethnography of the countries he visited. Photius also preserved a fragment of the history of Theophanes of Byzantium, who wrote at the end of the sixth century and probably covered in his work the period from the time of Justinian to the first years of the reign of Maurice. This fragment is important because it contains evidence bearing on the introduction of sericulture in the Byzantine Empire and includes also one of the earliest references to the Turks. Another source particularly valuable for church history of the fifth and sixth centuries is the work of Evagrius of Syria, who died at the end of the sixth century. His Ecclesiastical History in six books is a continuation of histories written by Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret. It contains an account of events from the Council of Ephesus, in the year 431, to the year 593. In addition to information on ecclesiastical events, it contains also interesting data on the general history of the period.
John the Lydian was distinguished for his excellent education, and Justinian thought so highly of him that he commissioned him to write an imperial panegyric. Besides other works, John left a treatise On the Administration (magistrates) of the Roman State, which has not yet been sufficiently studied and evaluated. It contains numerous interesting facts about the internal organization of the Empire and may serve as a valuable supplement to The Secret History of Procopius.
The manifold significance of The Christian Topography of Cosmas Indicopleustes, the broad geographical scale of which so closely corresponded to Justinian’s sweeping projects, has been discussed. To the field of geography also belongs the statistical survey of the Eastern Roman Empire of Justinian’s period, which came from the pen of the grammarian Hierocles, and bears the title of A Fellow-Traveler of Hierocles (Συνεκδημος; Synecdemus; Vademecum). The author does not center his survey about the ecclesiastical, but. rather about the political, geography of the Empire, with its sixty-four provinces and 912 cities. It is impossible to determine whether this survey was a product of Hierocles’ own initiative or a result of a commission received from some high authority. In any event, in the dry survey of Hierocles exists an excellent source for determining the political position of the Empire at the beginning of Justinian’s reign. Hierocles was the principal source for geographical matters for Constantine Porphyrogenitus.
In addition to these historians and geographers, the sixth century also had its chroniclers. Justinian’s epoch was still closely connected with classical literature, and the dry universal chronicles, which developed greatly in the later Byzantine period, appeared only as rare exceptions in this period.
A middle position between the historians and chroniclers was occupied by Hesychius of Miletus, who lived, in all likelihood, in the time of Justinian. His works survive only in fragments preserved in the writings of Photius and the lexicographer of the tenth century, Suidas. On the basis of these fragments it appears that Hesychius wrote a universal history in the form of a chronicle embracing the period from the time of ancient Assyria to the death of Anastasius (518). A large fragment of this work has survived, which is concerned with the early history of Byzantium even before the time of Constantine the Great. Hesychius was also the author of a history of the time of Justin I and the early reign of Justinian which differed greatly in style and conception from the first work, and contained a detailed narrative of events contemporary with the author. The third work of Hesychius was a dictionary of famous Greek writers in different branches of knowledge. Since he did not include the Christian writers, some scholars affirm that Hesychius was probably a pagan; this opinion, however, is not generally accepted.
The true chronicler of the sixth century was the uneducated Syrian of Antioch, John Malalas, the author of a Greek chronicle of the history of the world, which, judging by the only surviving manuscript, relates events from the fabulous times of Egyptian history to the end of Justinian’s reign. But it probably contained also accounts of a later period. The chronicle is Christian and apologetic in its aims, exposing very clearly the monarchistic tendencies of the author. Confused in content, mixing fables and facts, important events and minor incidents, it is clearly intended not for educated readers but for the masses, ecclesiastical and secular, for whom the author put down many varied and amusing facts. “This work represents a historical booklet for the people in the fullest: sense of the term.” The style is particularly worthy of attention, for this work is the first considerable one written in the spoken Greek language, that vulgate Greek dialect, popular in the East, which mixed Greek elements with Latin and eastern expressions. Since it suited the taste and mentality of the masses, this chronicle exerted an enormous influence upon Byzantine, eastern, and Slavonic chronography. The large number of Slavonic selections and translations of the writings of Malalas are of great value in restoring the original Greek text of his chronicle.
In addition to the large number of works written in Greek, to this epoch (518-610) belong also the Syrian writings of John of Ephesus, who died in the latter part of the sixth century (probably in the year 586). Born in Upper Mesopotamia and a convinced Monophysite by faith, John spent many years of his life in Constantinople and in Asia Minor, where he occupied the see of Ephesus and made the personal acquaintance of Justinian and Theodora. He was the author of the Lives of the Eastern Saints or Histories Concerning the Ways of Life of the Blessed Easterns (Commentarii de Beatis Onentalibus), and the Ecclesiastical History (in Syriac), which embraced originally the period from Julius Caesar to the year 585. Of the latter only the most important and original part has survived, which deals with events from 521 to 585. It is an invaluable source for the period. Written from a Monophysitic point of view, this history of John of Ephesus reveals, not so much the dogmatic foundations of the Monophysitic disputes, as their national and cultural background. According to a scholar who has devoted himself to the special study of John’s work, the Ecclesiastical History “throws much light upon the last phases of the struggle between Christianity and paganism by revealing also the cultural foundations of this struggle.” It is also “of great value to the political and cultural history of the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century, especially with regard to determining the extent of eastern influences. In his narrative the author enters into all the details and minutiae of life, thus giving abundant material for a close acquaintance with the manners and customs and the archeology of the period.”
The Monophysitic disputes, which continued throughout the sixth century, aroused much literary activity in the realm of dogmatics and polemics. Even Justinian did not abstain from participating in these literary disputes. The writings of the Monophysitic side in the Greek original have not been preserved. They can be judged either by citations found in the writers of the opposing camp or by the translations preserved in Syriac and Arabic literature. Among the writers of the orthodox side was a contemporary of Justin and Justinian, Leontius of Byzantium, who left several works against the Nestorians, Monophysites, and others. On the life of this dogmatist and polemic there is very scanty information. He stands out as an example of an interesting phenomenon in the time of Justinian, namely, the fact that Plato’s influence upon the church fathers was already beginning to give way to that of Aristotle.
The development of monastic and eremitical life in the East during the sixth century left its traces in the works of ascetic, mystical, and hagiographic literature. John Climacus (ο της κλιμακος) lived in solitude on Mount Sinai for a long period of years and wrote what is known as the Climax — “Spiritual ladder” (Scala Parodisi), consisting of thirty chapters, or “rungs,” in which he described the degrees of spiritual ascension to moral perfection. This work became favorite reading among the Byzantine monks, serving as a guide to the attainment of ascetic and spiritual perfection. But the remarkable popularity of the Climax was by no means confined to the East; there are many translations into Syriac, Modern Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, and Slavonic. Some of the manuscripts of the Climax contain many interesting illustrations (miniatures) of religious and monastic life.
At the head of the hagiographic writers of the sixth century one must place Cyril of Scythopolis, a Palestinian, who spent the last years of his life in the famous Palestinian Laura of St. Sabas. Cyril wanted to compile a large collection of monastic “Lives,” but did not succeed in completing this project, probably because of his premature death. Several of his works have survived. Among these are the lives of Euthymius and St. Sabas, and also several minor lives of saints. Because of the accuracy of narrative and the author’s precise understanding of ascetic life, as well as the simplicity of his style, all the surviving works of Cyril serve as very valuable sources for the cultural history of the early Byzantine period. John Moschus, also a Palestinian, who lived at the end of the sixth and early part of the seventh centuries, produced his famous work in Greek, Pratum Spirituale (Λειμων), “The spiritual meadow,” on the basis of the experience gained during numerous journeys to the monasteries of Palestine, Egypt, Mount Sinai, Syria, Asia Minor, and the islands of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. The work contains the author’s impressions of his journeys and much varied information about monasteries and monks. In some respects the contents of the Pratum Spirituale are of great interest for the history of civilization. It later became a favorite book, not only in the Byzantine Empire, but also in other lands, especially in Old Russia.
The poetical literature of this time also had several representatives during this period. It is quite certain that Romanus the Melode (“hymn-writer”), famous for his church songs, was at the height of his creative career in the time of Justinian. In the same period Paul the Silentiary composed his two poetical descriptions (in Greek verse) of St. Sophia and its beautiful pulpit (ambo). These works are of great interest in the history of art, and were praised by his contemporary, the historian Agathias, mentioned earlier. Finally, Corippus of North Africa, who later settled in Constantinople, a man of limited poetical ability, wrote two works in Latin verse. The first of these, Johannis, written in honor and praise of the Byzantine general, John (Johannes) Troglita, who quelled the revolt of the north African natives against the Empire, contains invaluable data about the geography and ethnography of North Africa as well as about the African War. The facts related by Corippus are at times more dependable than those given by Procopius. The second work of Corippus, the Panegyric or Eulogy of Justin (in laudem Justini), describing in bombastic style the accession of Justin II the Younger and the first events of his reign, is inferior to the first poem, yet it contains many interesting facts about the ceremonial of the Byzantine court in the sixth century.
Papyri have revealed a certain Dioscorus, who lived in the sixth century in a small village of upper Egypt, the Aphrodito. A Copt by birth, he seems to have received a good general education with a thorough training in law; he also entertained literary ambitions. Though his large collection of deeds and other papyri furnish much precious information concerning the social and administrative history of the period, his poems contribute nothing to the glory of Hellenistic poetry; they represent the work of an amateur which is “full of the most glaring blunders, alike in grammar and prosody.” According to H. Bell, he read at least a fair amount of Greek literature but wrote execrable verses. J. Maspero calls Dioscorus the last Greek poet of Egypt, as well as one of the last representatives of Hellenism in the valley of the Nile.
The closing of the Athenian pagan academy during Justinian’s reign could result in no very serious harm to the literature and education of this period because the academy had already outlived its purpose. It was no longer of great import in a Christian empire. The treasures of classical literature penetrated gradually, often externally only, into the products of Christian literature. The university of Constantinople organized by Theodosius II continued to be active in Justinian’s epoch. New works on jurisprudence show the importance of the study of law during this period. It was confined, however, to the formal mastery of literal translations of juridical texts and the writing of brief paraphrases and excerpts. We have no exact information as to how juridical instruction developed after the death of Justinian. While Emperor Maurice showed much interest in learning, his successor, Phocas, apparently halted the activities of the university.
In the realm of art the epoch of Justinian bears the name of the First Golden Age. The architecture of his time created a monument unique in its kind — the Church of St. Sophia.
St. Sophia or the Great Church, as it was called throughout the East, was constructed by the orders of Justinian on the site of the small basilica of St. Sophia (“divine wisdom”) which was set on fire during the Nika revolt (532). In order to make this temple a building of unusual splendor, Justinian, according to late tradition, ordered the governors of the provinces to furnish the capital with the best pieces of ancient monuments. Enormous quantities of marble of various colors and shades were also transported to the capital from the richest mines. Silver, gold, ivory, and precious stones were brought in to add further magnificence to the new temple.
The Emperor chose for the execution of this grandiose project two gifted architects, Anthemius and Isidore. Both were natives of Asia Minor, Anthemius from the city of Tralles, and Isidore from Miletus. They attacked their great task with enthusiasm and skillfully guided the work of ten thousand laborers. The Emperor visited the construction personally, watching its progress with keen interest, offering advice, and arousing the zeal of the workers. In five years the construction was completed. On Christmas Day of the year 537 the triumphant dedication of St. Sophia took place in the presence of the Emperor. Later sources related that the Emperor, overwhelmed by his attainment, said upon entering the temple: “Glory be to God who deemed me worthy of this deed! I have conquered thee, Solomon!” On this triumphant occasion the population was granted many favors and great celebrations were arranged in the capital.
Externally St. Sophia is very simple because its bare brick walls are void of any ornamentation. Even the famous dome seems somewhat heavy from the outside. At present St. Sophia is lost among the Turkish houses which surround it. In order to appreciate fully all the grandeur and splendor of the temple one must see it from the inside.
In former days the temple had a spacious court, the atrium, surrounded by porticoes in the center of which stood a beautiful marble fountain. The fourth side of the atrium adjoining the temple was a sort of outer porch or closed gallery (narthex) connected by five doors with the second inner porch. Nine bronze doors led from this porch into the temple; the central widest and highest royal door was intended for the emperor. The temple itself, approaching in its architecture the type of “domed basilicas,” forms a very large rectangle with a magnificent central nave over which rises an enormous dome 31 meters in circumference, constructed with unusual difficulty at the height of 50 meters above the earth’s surface. Forty large windows at the base of the dome let abundant light spread through the entire cathedral. Along both sides of the central nave were constructed two-storied arches richly decorated with columns. The floor and the columns are of many-colored marble, which was used also for parts of the walls. Marvelous mosaics, painted over in the Turkish period, formerly enchanted the eyes of the visitors. Particularly deep was the impression made upon pilgrims by the enormous cross at the top of the dome shining upon a mosaic-starred sky. And even today one can distinguish, under the Turkish painting in the lower part of the dome, the large figures of winged angels.
The most difficult task of the builders of St. Sophia, a feat yet unsurpassed even in modern architecture, was the erection of an enormous, and at the same time very light, dome. The task was accomplished, but the remarkable dome did not last very long; it caved in even during Justinian’s period and had to be rebuilt on less daring lines at the end of his reign. Justinian’s contemporaries spoke of St. Sophia with as much transport as did later generations, including the present. The Russian pilgrim of the fourteenth century, Stephen of Novgorod, wrote in his Travels to Tsargrad (Constantinople), “As for St. Sophia, Divine Wisdom, the human mind can neither tell it nor make description of it.” In spite of frequent and violent earthquakes, St. Sophia stands firm even today. It was transformed into a mosque in 1453. Strzygowski said: “In conception the church [St. Sophia] is purely Armenian.”
As time went on the true story of the erection of St. Sophia was transformed in literature into a sort of legend with a large number of miraculous details. From the Byzantine Empire these legends found their way into south-Slavic and Russian as well as into Muhammedan, Arabic, and Turkish literature. The Slavonic and Muhammedan versions present very interesting material for the history of international literary influences.
The second famous church of the capital erected by Justinian was the Church of the Holy Apostles. This church had been built by Constantine the Great or by Constantius, but toward the sixth century it was in a state of complete dilapidation. Justinian pulled it down and rebuilt it on a larger and more magnificent scale. It was a cruciform church with four equal arms and a central dome between four other domes. Again the architects of the Church were Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore The Younger. When Constantinople was taken by the Turks in 1453 the church was destroyed to make room for the mosque of Muhammed II the Conqueror. A clearer conception of what the Church of the Holy Apostles was like can be obtained from St. Mark’s at Venice, which was built on its model. It was copied also in St. John at Ephesus, and on French soil in St. Front at Perigueux. The beautiful lost mosaics of the Church of the Apostles have been described by Nicholas Mesarites, a bishop of Ephesus, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and were thoroughly discussed by A. Heisenberg. The Church of the Apostles is known to have been the burial place of the Byzantine emperors from Constantine the Great to the eleventh century.
The influence of Constantinopolitan construction was felt in the East, for instance, in Syria, and in the West in Parenzo, in Istria, and especially at Ravenna.
St. Sophia may impress and charm now by its dome, by the sculptural ornaments of its columns, by the many-colored marble facing of its walls and floor, and still more by the ingenuity of its architectural execution; but the marvelous mosaics of this remarkable temple have heretofore been inaccessible, because they were painted over during the Turkish period. A new era in the history of St. Sophia, however, started recently through the enlightened policy of the modern Turkish republic under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. The building was first of all thrown open to foreign archeologists and scholars. In 1931 an order of the Turkish government was issued enabling the Byzantine Institute of America to lay bare and conserve the mosaics of St. Sophia. Professor Thomas Whittemore, director of the Institute, secured permission to uncover and restore mosaics, and in 1933 work began in the narthex. In December 1934, Mustapha Kemal announced that the building had been closed as a mosque and would henceforth be preserved as a museum and monument of Byzantine art. Owing to Whittemore’s untiring and systematic work the marvelous mosaics of St. Sophia are gradually reappearing in all their brilliance and beauty. Since Whittemore’s death in 1950, his work has been continued by Professor Paul A. Underwood.
An excellent conception of Byzantine mosaics exists in the West in the northern Italian city of Ravenna. Fifteen hundred years ago Ravenna was a prosperous city on the Adriatic coast. During the fifth century it served as a refuge of the last Western Roman emperors; in the sixth century it became the capital of the Ostrogothic kingdom, and finally, from the middle of the sixth century to the middle of the eighth century, it was the administrative center of Byzantine Italy reconquered from the Ostrogoths by Justinian. It was the home of the Byzantine viceroy or exarch. This last period was the brilliant period of Ravenna, when political, economic, intellectual, and artistic activity poured forth in an abundant stream.
The artistic monuments of Ravenna are bound up with the memory of three persons: first, Galla Placidia, the daughter of Theodosius the Great and the mother of the western emperor, Valentinian III, second, Theodoric the Great, and third, Justinian. Putting aside the earlier monuments of the time of Galla Placidia and Theodoric, we shall speak briefly only about the Ravenna monuments of Justinian’s time.
Throughout his long reign Justinian was greatly interested in promoting the construction of monuments of civil and religious architecture in various places of his enormous empire. Upon conquering Ravenna he finished the construction of those churches which had been begun under the Ostrogothic sway. Among these churches two are of particularly great importance from an artistic point of view. They are the Church of St. Vitale and the Church of St. Apollinare in Classe (the Ravennan port, Classis). The main artistic value of these churches lies in their mosaics.
About three miles from the city of Ravenna, in the deserted marshy locality occupied in the Middle Ages by the prosperous trading port of the city, rises the simple outline of the Church of St. Apollinare in Classe, representing in shape a genuine ancient Christian basilica. On one side of this church stands the round campanile constructed later. The interior has three naves. The ancient sarcophagi, decorated by sculptural images and situated along the church walls, contain the remains of the most famous archbishops of Ravenna. The mosaic of the sixth century can be seen in the lower part of the apse. It represents St. Apollinare, the protector of Ravenna, standing with raised arms, surrounded by lambs, in the midst of a peaceful landscape; above him, on the blue starred sky of the large medallion, beams a jeweled cross. The other mosaics of this church date from a later period.
For the study of the artistic achievements of Justinian’s period the church of St. Vitale in Ravenna contains the most valuable material. Here the mosaics of the sixth century have been preserved almost intact. The domed church of St. Vitale is covered on the inside from top to bottom with marvelous sculptural and mosaic decorations. The apse of this church is particularly well known because the two most famous mosaics are found on its two side walls. One of them represents Justinian surrounded by the bishop, the priests, and his court; the other is a picture of his wife, Theodora, with her ladies. The garb of the figures in these pictures is very striking in its splendor and magnificence. Ravenna, sometimes referred to as an “Italian-Byzantine Pompeii,” or “la Byzance occidentale,” offers the most valuable material for the evaluation of early Byzantine art of the fifth and sixth centuries.
The building activities of Justinian were not limited to the erection of fortifications and churches. He constructed also many monasteries, palaces, bridges, cisterns, aqueducts, baths, and hospitals. In the distant provinces of the Empire the name of Justinian is connected with the construction of the monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai. In the apse of its church is a famous mosaic of a transfiguration ascribed to the sixth century.
Several very interesting miniatures and textiles of that epoch have survived. And although under the influence of the church, sculpture in general was in a state of decline, there were a large number of exceedingly graceful and beautiful ivory carvings, particularly among the diptych-leaves and the special group of consular diptychs, the series beginning in the fifth century and ending with the abolition of the consulate in 541.
Almost all the writers of this period and the builders of St. Sophia and of the Apostles were natives of Asia or northern Africa. The Hellenistic civilized East still continued to fertilize the intellectual and artistic life of the Byzantine Empire.
A survey of the long, various, and complicated reign of Justinian shows that in the majority of his projects he did not attain the desired results. It is quite evident that the brilliant military undertakings in the West, a direct outcome of his ideology of a Roman Caesar obliged to reconquer the lost territories of the Empire, were not successful in the end. They were decidedly out of harmony with the true interests of the Empire, centering primarily in the East; hence they contributed much to the decline and ruin of the country. The lack of means followed by a reduction of the army made it impossible for Justinian to establish himself firmly in the newly conquered provinces, and the results became evident during the reign of his successors. The religious policy of the Emperor was also a failure, for it did not bring about religious unity and resulted only in additional disturbances in the eastern Monophysitic provinces. Justinian met with most complete failure in his administrative reforms, which were begun with pure and sincere intentions and which led to the impoverishment and depopulation of villages, particularly because of excessive taxation and extortions by local officials.
Two of Justinian’s achievements, however, left a deep mark. in the history of human civilization and completely justify the surname of “Great.” These two achievements are his code of civil law and the cathedral of St. Sophia.
4. The Heraclian epoch (610-717)
5. The Iconoclastic epoch(717-867)
The Isaurian or Syrian Dynasty.
6. The Macedonian epoch (867-1081)
7. Byzantium and the Crusades
The Comneni emperors and their foreign policy
The Fourth Crusade and Byzantium
8. The Empire of Nicaea (1204-61)
New states formed on Byzantine terrirory.
9. The fall of Byzantium
Foreign policy of the Paleologi.
Constantinople, the Acropolis of the universe, the imperial capital of the Romans, which, by the will of God, was under the power of the Latins, has come again under the power of the Romans — this has been granted them by the will of God through us.” These are the words in the autobiography of Michael Palaeologus, the first Emperor of the restored Byzantine Empire.
Emperors of the Byzantine Empire
Constantine the Great (sole emperor), 324-337.
Julian the Apostate, 361-363.
Theodosius the Great, 379-395.
Theodosius II the Younger, 408-450.
Leo I the Great, 457-474.
Leo II, 474.
Anastasius I, 491-518.
Justin I, 518-527.
Justinian I the Great, 527-565.
Justin II, 565-578.
Tiberius II, 578-582.
Constantine II, 641.
Heraclonas (Heracleon), 641.
Constantine III (Constans II), 641-668.
Constantine IV, 668-685.
Justinian II Rhinotmetus, 685-695.
Tiberius III (Apsimar), 698-705.
Justinian II (for the second time), 705-711.
Philippicus Bardanes, 711-713.
Anastasius II (Artemius), 713-715.
Theodosius III, 715-717.
Leo III, 717-741.
Constantine V Copronymus, 741-775.
Leo IV the Khazar (Chazar), 775-780.
Constantine VI, 780-797.
Nicephorus I, 802-811.
Michael I Rangabé, 811-813.
Leo V the Armenian, 813-820.
Michael II the Stammerer, 820-829.
Michael III, 842-867.
Basil I, 867-886.
Leo VI the Philosopher (the Wise), 886-912.
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, 913-959.
Romanus I Lecapenus (co-emperor), 919-944.
Stephen and Constantine, Romanus Lecapenus' sons. Dec. 944-Jan. 945.
Romanus II, 959-963.
Nicephorus II Phocas, 963-969.
John I Tzimisces, 969-976.
Basil II Bulgaroctonus, 976-1025.
Constantine VIII, 1025-1028.
Romanus III Argyrus, 1028-1034.
Michael IV the Paphlagonian, 1034-1041.
Michael V Calaphates, 1041-1042.
Theodora and Zoë, 1042.
Constantine IX Monomachus, 1042-1055.
Michael VI Stratioticus, 1056-1057.
Isaac I Comnenus, 1057-1059.
Constantine X Ducas, 1059-1067.
Romanus IV Diogenes, 1067-1071.
Michael VII Ducas Parapinakes, 1071-1078.
Nicephorus III Botaniates, 1078-1081.
Alexius I Comnenus, 1081-1118.
John II, 1118-1143.
Manuel I, 1143-1180.
Alexius II, 1180-1183.
Andronicus I, 1182-1185.
Isaac II Angelus, 1185-1195.
Alexius III, 1195-1203.
Isaac (for the second time) and Alexius IV, 1203-1204.
Alexius V Ducas Mourtzouphlos, 1204.
Theodore I Lascaris, 1204-1222.
John III Ducas Vatatzes, 1222-1254.
Theodore II Lascaris, 1254-1258.
John IV, 1258-1261.
Michael VIII Palaeologus, 1261-1282.
Andronicus II, 1282-1328.
Michael (IX), 1295-1320.
Andronicus III, 1328-1341.
John V, 1341-1391.
John VI Cantacuzene, 1341-1354.
Andronicus (IV), 1376-1379.
John (VII), 1390.
Manuel II, 1391-1425.
John VIII, 1425-1448.
Constantine XI, 1449-1453.