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.

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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.

Byzantine Symbols

The Byzantine Empire, which was basically the Eastern Roman Empire, existed for about 10 centuries longer than the Roman Empire, and thus had an opportunity to make a long-lasting impression on culture, arts, sciences and philosophy through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance period in Europe, according to personal injury lawyer in Dallas.

As with other empires, Byzantium developed and curated some various symbols and insignia that were used on battle flags, royal robes and other clothing, as well as stool pillows or other accoutrements of the Empire.

Not many of the insignias were unique to Byzantium. One could say that a couple of the more prominent symbols were “stolen” from elsewhere. We’ll take a look at these prominent insignias that were pinned to Byzantium for the rest of history.

The Cross

Known as a tetra grammatic cross, the Byzantine cross was seen on a lot of battle flags and flags that flew over the Empire in various locations.  While not necessarily a “national flag,” the gold or silver cross that bisected the flag and had four “beta” (Greek letter) in each red field in the corners was a prominent look for much of the Empire’s existence.

The cross was not originated in Byzantium, as the cross shape on the flag (which is similar to what you might find on present-day national flags like England, the Dominican Republic, and the United Kingdom) was seen on several Roman Empire flags and banners earlier than the 6th century.

The insignia was very prominent toward the end of the Empire in the 14th and 15th centuries, but it had some roots dating back to the early days of the Roman Empire. The meaning of the cross has been a subject of much debate, as even modern-day scholars can’t seem to agree.

Double-headed Eagle

The eagle symbol, in general, was prominent in the Roman and the Byzantine Empire and was representing power and dominion in both nations. At the time of the breakup of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Byzantine out of Constantinople, the single-headed eagle was prominent, but the Byzantine Empire adopted the double-headed eagle later on, and it was very prominent in the latter days of the Empire.

It is said that in Byzantium the double-headed eagle refers to the two “sides” of the Empire around Constantinople – Europe and the Near East (western Asia). The insignia started to be seen regularly in the 11th century in various artworks, and it wasn’t known to be in connection with the Empire or its leadership until at least a century later. Though the double-headed eagle has remained as a prominent symbol, it’s a bit misleading that it was an actual insignia of Byzantium.

Not only was it late to the Byzantine party yet claimed to be a genuinely Byzantine insignia, it’s supposedly not originally from Byzantium, but rather noted on some rock-carvings from the Hittite era (which is Biblical times, thousands of years before Byzantium).

Byzantium was an important aspect of world history, serving as a bridge from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance in Europe. However, it can be said that Byzantium was more important in transitioning Roman and Greek innovations into more modern times, rather than coming up with much originality – and this can be applied as well to Imperial insignia which didn’t originate in the Empire, but instead was taken from earlier applications.

Can the Bristol Royal Infirmary Chapel Be Saved From Demolition?

In this day and age, it seems we ignore the little insights that history has to offer. We throw away art, fail to teach relevant stories about the past, and we even knock down important works of architecture that offer us a teasing glance into worlds that are now long gone. Bristol, a city in the United Kingdom, plans to demolish the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) Chapel in order to free up enough space for 715 flats for students to use. This chapel happens to be the last surviving piece of the Bristol Byzantine architectural style, and so a campaign has been launched to save it.

The architectural style took inspiration from Italian gothic, Roman, and local aesthetic influences of the time period. SC Fripp was the architect behind its construction in 1859, which itself marked the very beginning stages of this architectural era.

Why the city’s government hasn’t already spared the building from demolition and abandoned what many see as an unnecessary new project for living space is in question. Flats can always be built elsewhere. Why isn’t architecture such as the BRI Chapel considered important enough to preserve? The past is part of the city’s charm, and adds to centuries of culture.

The architectural style isn’t all the building has to offer. There are a number of memorials dedicated to World War I on site, and a stained glass window decorating not only the soldiers but the nurses who died in 1911. Architecture is one thing that a lot of people might not mind seeing thrown away in order to embrace the new, but bypassing remembrance of fallen soldiers is a different thing entirely.

Part of the reason the building is still slated for demolition is bureaucracy. Historic England is in charge of deciding whether or not to protect old forms of architecture or allow their destruction. Not long ago, a structure built on Small Street was graced with a ceiling around 400 years old. Conservations called upon Historic England to intervene, just as they have in the case of the BRI Chapel. Builders demolished it a single day before the organization had planned to inspect the building.

Timing, it seems, is everything.

There was an earlier campaign aimed at preserving the entire BRI building instead of just the chapel, but it failed. Those who inspected the rest of the building decided that the interior had been altered too much to fall under historical protection. The BRI has not been altered, and so there is still a chance it might be saved from demolition.

Even so, the deadline for doing so is approaching fast. Historic England has only until council planners make their final decision on whether or not to accept the application for demolition in November.

Common Byzantine Misconceptions That Everyone Should Know About

Apparently, there are a number of individuals running around out there claiming to be descended from the Byzantine royal line. If you know or hear of anyone who says they’re a member of the Palaiologos House, run away quickly. Or contact a psychiatrist–whichever you’re more comfortable with. We know that there isn’t any documented evidence for any such descendants, and so we can quickly dismiss the common misconception that they exist. Here are a few other common Byzantine misconceptions that everyone should know about.

There are two things you’ve probably heard about Emperor Constantine. He grew up in Greece, and so neither should be a big surprise. First, it is well documented that he was known as a Greek hero. As for the second thing, however, it is commonly said that he was a man who would go to any length to defend the Orthodox faith. That isn’t quite as true. There’s nothing to suggest that any of his actions were specifically meant to lend aid to such a cause.

When we learn about eunuchs in the Byzantine Empire, we might be left a bit confused as to their role. They did a little bit of everything. One eunuch might be a well-respected priest or wartime general, while another might transport goods or information for sale. Even though eunuchs were a big part of the empire, they were actually illegally made. Castration was forbidden. Some confusion stems from their part in the church. Although the church forbade their use as sex slaves, it wasn’t unheard of. It seems that the church’s problem with sexual lust has been around for quite a while.

The ancient civilization’s people had a lot in common with the modern-day American. Although the empire often went to war in other parts of the world, its own people often rioted. This didn’t necessarily happen because of unrest as a result of societal problems like we tend to believe. Instead, it happened because someone’s chariot racing team came in last place. Some of these periods of unrest escalated far beyond their meager beginnings, and not all of them occurred for such dumb reasons.

When we think of the color purple, a lot of us think of Roman emperors and senators. Purple dye was extremely expensive because of its rarity in the ancient world, and so only the most prestigious individuals could hope to acquire it. This trend continued into the Byzantine era, so much so that one emperor decided to build a room of purple walls. Imperial children who were born inside were called “porphyrogennetos” or the purple-born.

All About Byzantine Food

When we think of foreign dishes, our minds are firmly rooted in the present. We very rarely consider the past as a template for new cuisine choices, and even when we do it’s hard to find good sources of information. How did ancient civilizations prepare food? Was it tasty? Was it healthy? What would the nutritionists of today think if they were to sample a Byzantine platter, for example? Believe it or not, we do have a few ideas of what you might expect if you had a seat at an ancient Byzantine table during supper. Here’s everything you need to know about Byzantine food.

You might think that people in the ancient world had less variety available to them, and for some of the lower classes that may ring true. The more wealth you had, the more ingredients you had to cook with. Local dishes weren’t the only ones you might hope to eat, either. These ancient peoples used local waterways to transport goods from one place to the next, and so they had more to work with than you’d imagine. The variety available to the Byzantines was greater than that available to the Greeks or Romans. In particular, Byzantine people often didn’t bother cooking herbs and vegetables. Instead, they ate a lot of their food raw.

When meat was available, it might come in the form of lamb, pork, chicken, gazelle or donkey. If you’ve never had a gazelle or donkey, then you haven’t lived in the ancient world. Like most cultures during ancient eras, they ate a lot of fish, and fish was plentiful. Ancient Romans used garum, or fish sauce, to flavor much of the foods they ate. The Byzantines did the same.

The Byzantines were the first we know of to use ginger or nutmeg for cooking. Prior to this age, these kinds of spices were only used as healing devices. In particular, they would puree vegetables like carrots and parsnips, and then mash in chopped ginger, cloves, and honey in order to create a tasty meal. They ate eggs. They ate cake. They used wine to cook. A lot of what they did, we continue to do today.

Although we can find quite a few references to Byzantine food and cooking in the historical documents that have been translated, the people of the time period did not create entire cookbooks. Because of this, it’s a lot more difficult to come by entire recipes. Instead, culinary experts from around the globe have had to resort to finding lists of ingredients, manifests of goods and traded materials, etc. Sometimes tracing the routes of merchants and travelers was a good way to find a new recipe. Even so, we still know a lot less than we would like to.

What Did People in the Byzantine Empire Wear

As with many other aspects of society, the early stages of the Byzantine empire mimicked their Roman counterparts in the style of dress as well, though the Byzantines eventually adapted and adopted styles unto themselves. In the beginning, however, togas were very popular in the upper classes as formal or official dress. Often, one could denote a citizen’s class simply by the splendor of their fashion. The wealthy lawyers tended to dress in woven silks and in elaborate patterns with embroidery, while the lower classes tended toward resist-dyed and printed fabrics. Often, the poor would have to settle for only a few select pieces of clothing through their life times, as clothing within the empire was rather expensive for lower classes.

By the time Justinian came into power, however, Byzantine fashion was altered drastically. Rather than sporting togas like their Roman brethren, Byzantine citizens now resorted to clothing called tunica, worn similar to a modern-day shirt with the fabric pinned over the shoulder. This new form of dress was worn by both men and women, and it was often worn in a similar fashion to undergarments with other garments typically worn over it, the most common of these called the dalmatica.

Throughout the time of Justinian’s rule, the chlamys (a semicircular cloak) was often worn by the upper classes with the length varying between the hips and falling all the way to the ankles. Along with the chlamys, those within the Senate would sport a tablion, a colored panel across chest or midriff. This was often adorned in certain colors and jewels to denote rank even among the senatorial class.

Women within the Byzantine empire tended to dress more often with modesty in mind. Their clothing was simply designed, most often only to cover a woman’s body almost entirely in any state, even through pregnancy. Some women at court were also adorned with bells as accessories, sometimes with bell-hooks to support their skirt. Women also tended toward wearing head-cloths and veils to cover their hair. Some descriptions also allude to women veiling their faces as well as their hair, though this not often seen in artistic depictions. It is possible to conclude that women outside higher social circles went even more well-wrapped than women of court. It is also interesting to note that these sources are dated to a time before the establishment of Islam.

Footwear was the most diverse form of clothing in the Byzantine empire. While sandals and slippers were widely popular among the lower classes, the military often wore boots (at separate times, either laced around the calf and leg or covering up to the knee entirely). Even rarer was the use of actual shoes, reserved solely for the upper classes and even further denoted by color. Green symbolized the protovestiarios, a high position at Byzantine court – often reserved for eunuchs. Blue denoted a sebastokrator, a senior court title that also referred to rulers within the Byzantine sphere of influence, as a measure of subordination to the Emperor. And red was reserved for the Emperor himself.

At one point in Byzantine history, there were even special forms of dress for court during various occasions, such as the name-day of the Emperor. Often, groups of officials would dress in blue and white while other groups dressed in red and green while they danced. These originally to denote the four popular factions during the chariot races, later simplified to the Blues and Greens. However, as heavy military stress came to bear on the Byzantine empire, this ceremonial tradition was utilized less and less until it was completely done away with after Constantinople’s capture during the Fourth Crussade.

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Slavery in the Byzantine Empire

Like many civilizations of the ancient era, slavery was quite prominent within the Byzantine empire.  Being popular among ancient Greece and the Roman empire to follow it, it would only come naturally that the Byzantine empire – initially developed as the eastern reaches of the Roman empire expanding into the borders of modern Turkey – would adopt this social agenda as well.

The Byzantine empire thrived from its slave trade as a result of using prisoners of war, predominantly Slavs and Bulgars dating as far back as the 10th century, and selling them to high-ranking Byzantine citizens. These prisoners of war derived mostly from military campaigns in the Balkans as well as other lands north of the Black Sea. Many of these bought-and-sold slaves ended up working in mansions and more rural regions throughout the empire, either becoming household servants or working on landed estates for their masters. There is even speculation among historians that the root word for “slaves” originates from the label for the Slavic people that were often captured and sold into slavery.

Parts of history also document the buying and selling of women and children subjected to the slave trade after the Byzantines reconquered the island of Crete from the Muslims. It is even said that parents who were heavily indebted would often resort to selling their own children to pay off these debts, despite efforts of the Byzantine empire to prevent this using a system of laws.

Once anyone became a slave in the Byzantine empire, they tended toward being a slave for life, even having the status affect their legacy. Children of slaves were by default slaves at birth, and this was not necessarily a regular phenomenon until well into the 11th century when it was decreed that slaves were allowed to marry and bear children to have proper families. However, there many cases when slaves were castrated and became eunuchs. Eunuchs, even those entering into slavery, had great potential to elevate themselves through society. They were prized by traders and masters alike, often directly associated with whatever house to which they were sold. Historically speaking, eunuchs also often held seats of high positions within the Byzantine courts, even as high as being recognized as court officials under direct orders of the Emperor himself. Because of this historical significance, eunuchs often fetched higher prices than most typical slaves. Depending on the condition of the eunuch, prices could go as high as five times normal amount compared to an adult male who had not been castrated.

As is typically expected, however, slaves as a whole tended to reside toward the lower end of the social hierarchy. They were often mistreated by those of higher classes and even looked upon as sub-human with no rights whatsoever, worse than those born naturally into the lower classes as uneducated laborers. They generally had no opportunity for personal growth as they almost always lacked the resources to afford anything that wasn’t freely given to them by their masters. Because of this, the only skills that they often ever acquired were those they could learn as a result of working for the upper classes and almost never anything more than that. As would be expected, the life of a slave was not at all pleasant. If a slave was at all lucky, he might be drafted into the Imperial army and have the opportunity toward some personal glory.

Who Was The Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I “The Great”?

After the Roman Empire became too large and began to crumble upon what were once strong foundations, it was split into eastern and western territories. Thus the Eastern Roman Empire was transformed into the Byzantine Empire, while the Western Roman Empire maintained many of its old territories, including Rome itself–which was no more than a pale shadow of its former glory. Theodosius I “The Great” was the emperor both the east and west from 379 A.D. until 395 A.D., but he would go down in history as the last to control both halves of the empire. His two sons each gained a half after his death, and that was that. It was like two separate political and militaristic entities had been created.

During his reign, he launched a brutal campaign against the Goth and barbarian tribes who were at that point invading the empire on a regular basis, slowly ebbing away at the Roman frontiers whose defenses were left in tatters. The campaign ultimately failed in what it set out to do: kill or subjugate every single one of them. His policy for dealing with enemies, or those perceived in animosity, was simple: kill now.

When the Goths finally escaped (perhaps to live to fight another day), they found a new home in Illyricum–which lay within the borders of the Roman Empire. They were a crafty lot, those Goths.

Theodosius, like many Roman emperors, was forced to deal with civil war and rebellion throughout his reign. The Western Roman Empire was under constant threat, especially when Magnus Maximus sought to take it for himself. He had managed to nearly complete the task but for the taking of Italy when Theodosius’s armies finally defeated Maximus at the Battle of the Save in 388. The usurper was promptly executed. Everyone rejoiced.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the empire was made when he thrust Orthodox Nicene Christianity forward as the official church of the empire. This lay the groundwork for the acts that came later.

Theodosius The Great died in Milan on January 17, 395 from an illness of edema, not personal injury in the New York City area. Early in the history of Rome as a republic, diversity of people, their gods, their rituals and culture all culminated to make the empire what it was: a place where all the little pieces made a greater whole. When Christianity began to slowly gain favor among Romans, all that changed. When Theodosius did nothing to stop the temples of many pagan gods from being desecrated or destroyed, there was an almost universal acceptance that this was the new way of life they had chosen, and Theodosius was honored as such for really cementing the reality into place. He even went so far as to disband the Vestal Virgins, who were a deeply ingrained part of Roman tradition long before Theodosius ever ruled.