Macedonian Dynastry

Starting in AD 867 and continuing until 1056, the Byzantine empire was ruled under a stretch of emperors known as the Macedonian dynasty. Initiated by Basil I the Macedonian, this period of rule saw the Byzantine empire expand its territory to its greatest point since the Muslim conquests of the early 7th and 8th centuries. It also ushered in what was regarded as the Macedonian Renaissance, which caused a profound interest in classical scholarship and utilizing motifs of the same nature within Orthodox Christian artwork.

Though there is controversy as to his ethnic origin, the influence that Basil I had on Byzantine history is undeniable. Born a peasant in AD 811 and persevering through a series of fortuitous events, he eventually came into the favor of Emperor Michael III, esteemed as a confidant, bodyguard, and even co-emperor, a title he received in AD 866. When he learned of Michael’s intent to grant the Imperial title to another courtier, Basiliskianos, Basil orchestrated the assassination of both me and came to rule the Byzantine empire, undisputed.

Ruling as emperor for the next 19 years until his death in AD 886, Basil oversaw great expansion of the Byzantine empire and developed it into what was regarded as a great world power with its territories stretching as far as the eastern Mediterranean. Despite possessing no formal education, he maintained amicable relations with the Holy Roman Empire despite historical schisms that separated the East from the West in many religious aspects, even allying with Rome in battle against Arab forces. In domestic policy, he was regarded as the second Justinian, codifying laws within the empire that lasted until its downfall to the Ottoman empire. His reign solidified the foundation of the Macedonian dynasty in Byzantine archives.

The crowning event during the Macedonian dynasty was its nurturing of scholastic achievements and, led by the examples of Basil I, a reform in law, education, and artistic endeavors during the Macedonian Renaissance. Where artists were banned from depicting religious figures, icons and classical themes thrived under the Macedonian dynasty. Some believe this even gave inspiration as far as Italian artists before the Italian Renaissance even took place. Along with art, website literature saw a great revival. Works such as De Ceremoniis outlined government, diplomacy and major customs of the time, Chronographia written by the scholar Michael Psellus documented the histories of fourteen separate Byzantine rulers. Education flourished in the University of Constantinople and Magnaura, the latter overseen by Leo the Mathematician. Law reform further protected the citizens of the Byzantine empire, some laws regulating growth through the use of trade guilds headed by the state to counter large land owners’ efforts to monopolize growth opportunity.

The line of the Macedonian dynasty ended in AD 1056 with the death of Theodora, who had assumed sole power for one year after the death of Constantine IX, despite the efforts of his advisers to convince him to grant the title to the Duke of Bulgaria. Theodora had supposedly retired to a convent by this point, following the death of her sister, with whom she co-ruled as empress for two months in 1042 before Zoe’s marriage to Constantine. Upon the news of Constantine’s illness, Theodora returned and asserted her authority to rule, followed quickly by the dismissal of several high-ranking officials, most of whom were speculated to oppose Theodora’s rule. When she became ill and passed, the Macedonian line was broken and the Byzantine empire fell into turmoil as rising houses within the nobility attempted to stake their claim for the Imperial throne. This matter would not see itself settled for another 25 years, when the beginning of the Komnenian dynasty took root.

Byzantine Literature

Stemming from its rich history, the Byzantine Empire is known to have a wealth of cultural influence from a great many peoples regarding a great many aspects of their society. Their religion, their art and architecture, and their literature all derive from various cultural origins, notably the Greeks and Romans upon whom much of their civilization is founded. However, there are also significant amounts of Christian influences and even influences from Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor that permeate cultural and artistic endeavors within the Byzantine cultural sphere.

Perpetuating itself in Byzantine literature, Greek influence was most prominent as it outpaced the use of Latin throughout the empire as Christianity spread from its inception in the 3rd century AD. By the time it had become relevant again, the use of ancient Greek as rhetoric within Byzantine literature had divided itself from the common medieval Greek vernacular that saw widespread use in day-to-day, interpersonal conversations. This appeared due primarily to the educational system that employed and resulted in literary values similar to those of the ancient Greeks, and this was reflected within the genres of literature that came out of authors within the empire: prominently within lyric poetry and drama. This sort of writing would eventually expand into newly-created genres such as romantic fiction, despite a historical upheaval of the Byzantine empire’s educational system in the 7th to 9th centuries where focusing upon classicizing literature had no longer become the priority next to maintaining the empire’s existence altogether.

Originally, the Byzantine empire had been established as an extension of the Roman empire. It would even later become known by many as the Eastern Roman Empire. These were the origins of Byzantine as well as its literature, basing its language on then widely used Latin until Christianity became more prominent a religion within society.  Latin has eventually excused altogether in Constantinople for Greek rhetoric that combined with Christian thought and belief. This origin can be traced back to Alexandria and the areas within Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor where many Greek cities were founded. Within these cities, the wealth of both tangible and intellectual property flourished, surpassing even the cities within Greece itself. Many of these citizens would later become integrated into the Byzantine empire, and thus their influence from culture-rich areas within the regarded Orient was deeply recognized.

The use of Greco-Christian literary style was widespread, not only in the artistic and lyrical community. Chroniclers and historians adopted the general style of classical writing, often modeling their own rhetoric after one or even several Greek predecessors. Authors of essays and encyclopedias within the Byzantine culture were said to originate from “lay theologians” which contributed to the scholarly, antiquated method of writing. Even spanning over several centuries, often regarded between the 6th and 12th centuries, pervaded several distinct genres of secular poetry. All of which seemed to draw their origins from Alexandrian influence mentioned earlier as the speculative birthplace of Greco-Christian values. Theological writing, of course, derive from Hellenistic and Oriental influences that also contributed to the thriving of Greco-Christian thought and to the Byzantine empire as a whole,

In the early 13th century, however, as influences from the West permeated into the Byzantine empire, the judgment of popular literature gradually shifted. Frankish and Italian methods altered the ideals of poetry, emphasizing romantic and idyllic themes of popular poetry over rationalistic, literary poetry.