Byzantine Social Classes

Throughout human existence, empires have risen, fallen, and risen again. The Byzantine Empire was located the Mediterranean portion Eastern Europe. Just as any other empire, the Byzantine had a system of social classes. The Byzantine broke social classes down into three broad categories: the Upper Class, the Middle Class, and the Lower Class. The structure was loose, not rigid. In other words, there was social mobility. While it was very hard to go from the bottom of the social pyramid to the top, it could be done. The social classes were based on a number of components including education, income, property, and other factors.

The Social Classes

The Upper Class:

The upper class was the highest tier of people. This class began with the emperor and trickled down to other wealthy owning families. If your family was in the upper class, you generally received more respect, more power, and owned most of the land. Top tier citizens enjoyed all of the spoils and benefits the Byzantine Empire had to offer.  

The Middle Class:

The middle class was the second tier of citizens. These citizens had the most potential for upward movement. Middle class citizens were just that, in the middle. They did not have as much wealth as upper class families, but did not have as little wealth as lower class families. Second tier citizens were merchants, artisans, government employees, or other highly skilled workers. Generally, it was easier to move from the middle class to the upper class because middle class citizens were able to get an education and learn other skills necessary to perform at the top of their profession.

The Lower Class:

The lower class is quite self-explanatory; it’s the lowest tier of citizens in the Byzantine Empire. This social category was made up of slaves and other physical laborers. Often, these citizens had little rights, lacked an identity, and were constantly disrespected by members of higher classes. The citizens in this tier were unpaid and they did not own property, but they were given a bunk and food rations from their employer. It was very difficult for citizens of this class to move up as they didn’t have access to education or the apprenticeships necessary to become skilled workers.   

The Byzantine Empire was not the first empire to have social classes and they certainly were not the last. In fact, social classes still exist today. In some countries, it is nearly impossible to increase your social status, while others have a more fluid system in terms of social mobility. At the end of the day, hard work is the best method to increase your social status and wealth.

Who or Where Is “Third Rome”?

From what we know of history’s lasting effects, it’s difficult to imagine that the influences of the Roman Empire will ever truly be lost. The concept of a system of checks and balances–a legislative, executive, and judicial branch in America–was directly taken from Rome’s system, which itself eventually failed to function as intended. When Rome fell to the west, the Byzantine Empire succeeded it as the Eastern Roman Empire. It eventually fell to the Ottomon Empire. It might surprise people to know that there was another attempt at resurrecting the Roman Empire. What and where was Third Rome, and who conceived such an undertaking?

Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottomans on May 29 of 1453. It didn’t take long for someone to claim credit for inheriting the legacy. Some members of the church decided that Moscow was as good a place as any, and so the seeds that would grow into a short-lived Third Rome were sown. These events weren’t surprising. Rome’s past can be seen anywhere you look. Buildings constructed during ancient times still stand, and were replicated everywhere, especially in places like New York City or Washington D.C.

The Russian claim was contested by the Ottomans who had taken the Eastern Roman Empire for their own. It was as if brothers were fighting for their claim as heirs. Only one could win the right. The claim of Mehmed II wasn’t recognized by the Roman Catholic Church that still had great influence (and does to this day) in the west. Additional claims were made by the Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians, Germans, French, and Italians.

The Russian Empire used a double-headed eagle for its symbolic coat of arms. When the Russian Empire died, so too did its claim for Third Rome. It shouldn’t be surprising that Italy was a key contender, since that’s where it all began. Even so, it wasn’t meant to last. Benito Mussolini referred to his hold over Italy as Third Rome. The concept still persists.

In reality, no Third Rome exists, and perhaps it never will. Many leaders have tried to use the concept to their own benefit, none succeeding. Perhaps the legacy is best left to the current European Union. Does it really matter if the legacy was never requested? Probably not. The history, the geographical location, the culture, and the lasting influences of Rome are all theirs. In no part of the world can more Roman influence be experienced than in many parts of the European Union. Today, countries that belong to European Union share a common identity, much as conquered regions of Rome did after they were assimilated into the empire. This is, in principle, Third Rome.

What Is Frankokratia?

In Greek it was called Frankokratia. In Latin it’s referred to as Latinokratia. And in Venetian it was called Venetocracy. But what is it? Whatever terminology that you wish to use, it refers to the time period after the fourth crusade when the Byzantine Empire was falling apart. During this time, a bunch of city-states were forming from the French (known as Francs), Catalans (conquerors from Spain) and Italian (known then as the Venetians) crusaders. The exact  dates of the time period fluctuates tremendously because many city-states were constantly being won and lost all at the same time. However, many historians agree that this period was over in the 14th century when the Ottomans took over famously changing Constantinople to Istanbul during a time period known as Tourkokratia.

Constantinople fell to the Francs during the 4th crusade in April of 1204. In order to get to the Holy Land, the French crusaders had to pass through Constantinople. Despite their best effort, they ransacked and took over Constantinople. At that point, the Francs decided to stay put and not pursue the Holy Land to enjoy all the riches that Constantinople offered. However, the Francs were not good at ruling the area and soon an revolution occured from Byzantine soldiers at Nicea in 1261.

This started what began the period of Frankokratia and the many different wars and establishment of city-states. For example from 1204 to 1230, the Bulgarians were able to capture northern Thrace and establish a city state. The County of Salona was established from 1205 to 1410. Originally part of Thessalonica, it was seized and became ruled by  the Catalonians before being taken over by the Ottomans in 1410.

But despite all the conquering and changing of rulership during this time, the Greek people stayed strong. Their main language was still Greek. There were no major changes to architecture, religion, and most of their culture. Because it was so constantly changing no one new culture was able to leave its mark during this time period on this area of Byzantine empire.

Political Aftermath of The Byzantine Empire

Civilizations rise and fall with a peculiar regularity, even if it’s hard to realize within the average human lifetime. The many peoples of today’s Italian peninsula collided before the birth of Christ to form the Roman Kingdom which eventually gave birth to the Roman Empire, which itself fell to rubble. The Byzantine Empire rose from its ashes, and survived for about a thousand years. Each of these cultures provided insight and inspiration for those that formed later–even for the United States of America, which stole heavily from Roman architecture and even political entities. The more immediate political aftermath of dying empires had a lasting effect.

The aftermath of an injury is always the same. First there is chaos, turmoil, and hurt. Then there is a period of healing. This period isn’t always easy, and can last centuries. Only the scar is left at the end. What was the political aftermath of the Byzantine Empire like?

When the Byzantine Empire had been reduced to a single independent state–a territory called the Despotate of the Morea–it was forced to pay a tribute to the Ottomans who had crushed the once powerful empire. This tribute was a tough pill for the citizens of the Despotate to swallow, and so they inevitably failed to deliver. The Despotate’s fraternal rulers had a shaky hold over the state, and eventually a revolt broke out. The rebellion led to an Ottoman invasion in May of the year 1460. Mehmed II led this invasion.

It wasn’t an accident. One brother turned on the other, and invited the invaders in return for sole ownership. As such things go, it didn’t work out. The Ottomans took it all for themselves, and the Byzantine influence in the region died a little bit more. This trend continued, and a few descendants of the last emperor, Constantine XI, were forced to remain in hiding or forfeit their lives. Others were assimilated into the Ottoman Empire as children, and were renamed. One served Mehmed personally, and another even became an admiral in the Ottoman fleet.

After World War 1, the Ottoman Empire finally disintegrated. Shockingly, it was the direct successors of Mehmed II who ruled until the empire finally fell. This was the same Mehmed II who crushed the last remnants of the Byzantine Empire so many centuries earlier.

Unsurprisingly, many political figures from the middles ages until the contemporary era have fought to keep the idea of the Roman Empire alive in one form or another. The American Forefathers certainly had this in mind when the American Revolution took place, and a very temporary Russian Empire succeeded as a sort of Third Rome before the Russian Revolution ended it once and for all.  It stands to reason that the influences of these early empires will probably last as long as humanity survives.

Board Games In The Ancient World

Although the world is changing to adopt a more electronic-based upbringing, those of us who grew up before the new millennium know the benefits of a good board game. Not only can they help alleviate boredom–something else that was far more of a concern back then than it is today–but they can help us acquire or maintain a level of mental acuity that many of us love to lord over our friends and loved ones. It’s why the smartphone-based game Trivia Crack and other games like it have so many devoted fans. Board games have been around since ancient times, and they probably won’t go anywhere anytime soon. Here are a few of those from the distant past.

You’ve probably heard of “Go” in the news recently. It’s an ancient Chinese board game exponentially more complicated than even chess, and the number of possible moves is even greater. When a computer beat the world chess champion, it was big news. A computer recently beat the world “Go” champion, and because of the complexity of the game, the event was even bigger news. “Go” was played perhaps longer than 4000 years ago, and Confucius is known to have written about the game.

Tabula” was a game played during the age of the ancient Byzantine Empire. You’ve probably never heard of it, but here’s one you have: backgammon. We believe that Tabula is a genetic precursor, so to speak, of backgammon. Without Tabula, we might not have the more modern favorite. Two players try to keep fifteen pieces safe, but upon rolling two dice the players must move pieces in specific directions. A lone piece is vulnerable.

Another game with a genetic precursor is one you played all through your childhood: tic-tac-toe. The citizens of the Roman Empire played a similar game called terni lapilli.

Mancala has been around for thousands of years, as Egyptians have been playing it since perhaps 1000 BCE. The game has likely evolved over time. We use wood surfaces on which to play the game, while Egyptians are believed to have preferred surfaces made of stone.

Many games throughout the ancient world were involved with darker aspects of human nature such as gambling. An Aztec game called “patolli” was played using marked stones and beans which would help players decide what moves were made. As players battled it out using a game board in the shape of a cross, bets were often placed.

Many parents believe that board games are an important part of growing up. Although some are games of chance, others can help provide young minds with the framework needed to grow. It could be said that games like chess or go can test the creativity of a child–and these types of tests are not a game.

If this is making you feel nostalgic, please check out some commercials for old board games in the video below!

What Is Jurisprudence And What Does It Have To Do With The Byzantine Empire?

Jurisprudence is not only a popular field of study, but is also represents a specific set of beliefs to which most of us unknowingly subscribe in some way or another. Can you imagine a nation without laws? Probably not. Laws are set into place for specific reasons. They help set a moral standard for the society living beneath them, they help the unwary discern between right and wrong, and they help determine punishment for those who are simply uncaring. Without law, many believe that anarchy would wreak havoc on us all. Those who study jurisprudence in depth wish to enhance their understanding of law and everything else under the umbrella of law: social behaviors guided by law, and legal reasoning, institutions, and systems.

This field of study has changed a great deal throughout time, and it’s no big surprise why.

In some developing areas of the world, laws and punishments are still archaic. In the more developed regions, most believe that laws should be intuitive and that punishments should be fair, just, and lack undue cruelty. It’s for this reason that the death penalty has been abolished in much of the so-called civilized world.

For those who wish to achieve a greater understanding of jurisprudence, a study of ancient civilizations is a must. They give us an accurate representation of how laws evolve over periods of time, and might even provide insight into how they could evolve in the future. There’s no better place to start than with the Byzantine Empire.

Many Byzantine customs and laws were assimilated from Rome. As Christianity became more and more prevalent throughout the Byzantine Empire, these laws changed as well. One of the reasons this era is so important to the present day is due to how we perceive, change, and inherit the laws of those who came before us. These civilizations gave us much of what we have today.

Justinian’s Code was the basis for much of the earliest Byzantine law, but the laws of the Byzantine Empire continued to change through the subsequent centuries. Even though these changes took place, the Western world was more enamored with Justinian’s Code. This set of laws was used by western scholars of jurisprudence, which is one reason why the veiled presence of these earlier laws is so apparent in contemporary jurisprudence.  

It should be noted that jurisprudence as a field of social science maintains several core beliefs. One of the most important relies on the concept of ancient natural law, or the assumption that any legislative branch must have limitations. Another focuses on neutrality and objectivity when determining the best course for legality. Limitations may or may not be necessary in such a system. The last core belief simply focuses on questioning what law does and how it functions–in addition to why it functions.

Instanbul Was Once Constantinople

Written back in 1953 by Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon and later performed as a cover single by the band They Might Be Giants, the song, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” is often remembered as a catchy ditty involving long names that drift back and forth between (you guessed it) Istanbul and Constantinople. The grueling fact is that this song actually reflects a dark history of the modern city of Istanbul in Turkey before it actually came to be known as such. Once again, you probably put together that it was once known as Constantinople, the great capital of the historic Byzantine empire.

Originally established as part of the Holy Roman Empire, the eastern and southeastern portions of the empire’s expanse were settled predominantly by Greeks (and very likely, tribes of Thracians before them). At the site in question, the settlement was initially known as Lygos – speculated as the site upon which the Thracians settled before the Greeks. The Greek government thus renamed the site Byzantium, later to become the name that reflected the whole of the empire. But, until that time, the city itself underwent a number of name changes while still under the rule of the Romans, including Augusta Antonina – in honor of the son of Emperor Septimius Severus – as well as New Rome, most likely to reflect the city’s influence within the eastern reaches of the empire. It also reflected Emperor Constantine’s efforts to rebuild and renovate the city. Historically speaking, the name New Rome also reflected the intrinsic rivalry between itself and the city of Rome located in modern-day Italy, particularly during a time called the Great Schism when the separation of the western and eastern empires had begun to take place due to a number of reasons, including socioeconomic and religious ones.

The city finally came to be known as Constantinople during the time of Emperor Theodosius II in the 5th century A.D. This was to honor its namesake, the earlier emperor Constantine the Great, who had established Constantinople as the eastern capital in the century prior. This name would be used to refer to the eastern capital until its separation from the Roman empire and throughout its history as the center of the Byzantine empire for the following thousand years. The city acquired a mass of nicknames in this time as well, including the “Queen City,” the “Reigning City” and even colloquially known just as “the City.”

Under the rule of Constantine Palaeologus, Constantinople suffered an attack and siege from Sultan Mehmed II and the Ottoman Turks in 1453. It would later come under Ottoman rule and submit to Islamic practices. Along with an internal transformation of the city’s culture, the Ottomans also renamed the city “Konstantiniyye,” in what is referred to as a calqued translation from Greek to Arabic, essentially meaning the same thing between the two languages. Under the rule of the Ottoman empire, this new city name would persist for another 470 years before being officially and permanently changed to Istanbul (meaning “into the city”) within the established Republic of Turkey in 1928.
The name Istanbul was actually a common way for Ottomans to refer to the city of Constantinople even before it was conquered by Sultan Mehmed II. It only became official after the First World War and when occupying Allied forces had withdrawn. Afterward, the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, and only a few years later they adopted the Latin alphabet. Up until this point, the worldwide opinion was still to call the city “Constantinople,” but Turkey would soon insist upon formally addressing it as Istanbul.
And that’s why it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople.

What is the Komnenian Restoration?

The Byzantine Empire has a long and interesting history. Originally the Eastern Roman Empire, over time it became clear that as Rome and the Western part of the empire was in decline, the Eastern Empire and it’s capital city would carry on as their own strong empire, but they weren’t without their own struggles.

After a long period of struggles, Albany-like levels of corruption, and decline, The Byzantine Empire was at a place where it needed guidance and leadership to help rebuild back to a stronger and more stable empire. This is where the Komnenian Restoration comes into play, which spanned over three emperors and took place from around 1081 to about 1185.

Wholesale Recovery

Historians view the Komnenian Restoration as a time of major reformation and recovery in financial and military ways. This also led to a stronger economy along with the ability to reclaim lost territory and secure both old and new borders. Many of these changes started with many small important steps, or “minding the details,” that helped shore up a bad situation, and started building a strong foundation. This sometimes meant taking informal provincial properties that were working and formally codifying them while at other times new changes had to be made.

Alexios I 1081-1118

The empire had just suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Seljuk Turks, and the Empire was facing threats from every direction. Alexios started by stopping the habit of hiring expensive mercenaries, bankrupting the treasury, who then often failed to accomplish security on the borders while emptying the treasury.

Alexios reformed the practices of the Byzantine armies to create better soldiers, officers, and more discipline. While this was happening he was able to recognize when tribal threats were too great and he created alliances with other nomadic tribes to help defend the borders successfully. He re-established relationships with the West and successfully convinced the Pope to send Western European forces via crusades which helped the Empire capture lost over the past few centuries and would never have had a chance at capturing otherwise.

Alexios was willing to take desperate measures such as melting down church artifacts and selling church land to resurrect the treasury to a healthy state.

John II Komnenos 1118-1143

John continued the wise policies of Alexios and slowly re-gained more territory by using sieges, guerrilla warfare, and tactics that emphasized a slow steady pressure, avoiding large battles that could result in catastrophe and thus slowly wearing down Turkish held lands. He further encouraged professional training and arms for the army, helping to move them from heavy local militia based to professional soldiers able to hold their own. These slow incremental changes were the steady hand needed until his death.

Manuel Komnenos 1143-1180

Steady work continued as Manuel used the lessons from Alexios and John II to continue improving the Empire. Results were sometimes mixed as a crushing surprise victory over the Kingdom of Hungary made them a vassal state but then a major loss to the Turks made movement into the Middle East slower and more in doubt. However all in all this was a successful continuation of the Komnenian Restoration.

After a succession issue, Andronikos I would end up emperor, and mark the end of the Komnenian Restoration. Hated by the aristocracy, nobility, and alienating the West, a full out revolt and instability followed, leading to the end of Byzantine’s resurgence.

For more information, please check out the following video:

EDWARD GIBBON AND THE ROMANS

The Roman Empire, when you count the existence of the Byzantine Empire, survived longer than any other empire on Earth, more than 20 centuries. According to one prominent British historian, the decline of the Empire started with the first century of Christianity and lasted well into the Renaissance era of Europe. While it left a very large footprint in civilization, there was not a unified historical record of the Empire until after the Empire fell for good at the hands of the Ottomans.

Pieces of the Roman Empire survived in math, science, medicine, politics, and philosophy, but there was no way to really know an account of the progress and ultimate demise of the Empire. Up until late in the 18th century, much of what happened to the Roman Empire was a mystery – it was hard to know what exactly happened and why.

Edward Gibbon set out to describe it with his most well-known historical work called The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon wrote his six-volume work in the 1770s and 1780s, with volumes published between 1776 and 1790. A British historian who was already of some repute, gained international notoriety from his work about the fall of the Romans, using primary and original source material, which was unusual for the time but soon became a model by which other historians since have been using.

Gibbon had a checkered history, being sick through most of his childhood (even almost dying several times), then becoming heavily involved in French society for a number of years as his health improved, then spending years back in England working on his Roman historical work. He tended to write very objectively and use original or primary sources for much of his information, but he seemed to be consistent with many people of the time – anti-religious, anti-Christian, Anti-Catholic – as he wrote of the Christianity-heavy Dark Ages as an era of superstition.

This was common in the Enlightenment of Gibbon’s time, when it was called the “age of reason” and rational thought. It is possible that that bias may have permeated his Roman history tracts, as he wrote that the decline and fall of the Roman (and Byzantine) Empire could be traced to two main causes:

  1. The acceptance and state sanctioning of Christianity and its inherent pacifism; and
  2. The “outsourcing” of its mercenaries.

Gibbon hypothesized that Romans and Byzantines had gradually become weak as a people and did not adhere to their initial militant and self-determining spirit, instead being willing to farm out all their military mercenary work to others – some of which did not have the same mission or goals as the Romans – and those mercenaries became such a part of the fabric of the Empire that they rotted the Empire from the inside, leaving the Romans themselves as passive and not willing to work or sacrifice for the protection of their community or culture.

As for Christianity, Gibbon said that the pacifism espoused by Christianity as it spread through the Empire further weakened the Romans and their militaristic might, and by the time the Empire was being besieged on all sides, especially by the Turks and the Muslims, the Roman people didn’t seem to have the stomach for fighting.

His work was very detailed for the time and was written in such a way that it set the standard for all future historical works regardless of the topic. Many American historians today use Gibbon as a model for their work, whether they are writing about Jamestown, the Civil War or Seabiscuit.

WHAT IS THE MACEDONIAN DYNASTY?

Do dynasties really exist these days?

Other than the Royal Family in some European countries (including England, which has existed from the start of the United Kingdom), there is talk of what constitutes a dynasty.

The word is mentioned a lot in sports – we’re I the idle of the Patriots dynasty in the NFL, where a team wins a number of championships in a small amount of time; there was the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls dynasty with six NBA titles in eight years; the North Dakota State dynasty, with five consecutive college-football national championships.

There are some in politics that is claimed, such as the Bush dynasty, where George H.W. and George W. Bush served as president and vice president of the United States for 20 of 28 years. But can there be a dynasty within an Empire?

In Byzantium, there certainly was – called the Macedonian Dynasty.

The Macedonian Dynasty was a period of rule within the Byzantine Empire leadership, when a non-Roman, no-Greek ruler started a bloodline of rulers that lasted nearly 200 years, from the 9th century A.D. into the 11th century. The patriarch of the dynasty was the emperor known as Basil I the Macedonian and carried through 16 emperors and empresses, with one coming to rule and two different times. Basil I’s ethnic origin couldn’t be definitively determined, but it was believed he was either Armenian or Slavic. What was known was that he has Armenians in many key positions within his leadership.

The dynasty was strictly within Basil’s family bloodline, with children and grandchildren rising to power upon deaths or assassination (Nikephoros II in 969; Romanos III in 1034). Basil I ruled the Empire for 19 years before dying in a hunting accident, when the dynastic throne was handed down to his son, Leo VI the Wise in 886 when the boy was 20 years of age. He ruled for 26 years, but he was not the longest-tenured ruler in the dynasty.

Two rulers had reigns of more than 40 years: Constantine VII, son of Leo VI, ruled for 46 years, from 913 to 959 (taking the throne just a year after his father’s death, after Alexander III), then Basil II ruled for 49 years, from 976 to 1025, taking over at age 18 for father Romanos II. The one who served two “terms” was empress Theodora, who spent one year as co-empress with sister Zoe in 1042, then was restored to empress on her own in 1055 following the death of Zoe’s third husband, Constantine IX, and she ruled until her death in 1056.

The dynasty ended with Theodora, as she had no heirs, and picked Michael VI to rule after her. He reigned for one year before being deposed in 1057 and entering the monastery. Theodora was one of two empresses during the Dynasty, as Zoe (daughter of Constantine VIII) ruled for 22 years until her death in 1050.

The Macedonian Dynasty was considered the time of the Byzantine Empire’s greatest expanse, and thus arguably a peak period in the history of the Empire. Nearly two centuries of rule made an impact on Byzantium and moved it forward, but it was the bridge toward the fall of the Empire four centuries later.