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About this book

Between AD 285, when Byzantium first separated from the Western Roman Empire, and 1461, when the last Byzantine splinter state disappeared, the Byzantine state and society underwent many crises, triumphs, declines and recoveries. Spanning twelve centuries and three continents, the Byzantine empire linked the ancient and modern worlds, shaping and transmitting Greek, Roman and Christian traditions - including the Greek classics, Roman law and Christian theology - that remain vigorous today, not only in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but through western civilisation.
This book examines the causes behind Byzantium's successes, failures and remarkable longevity. The author shows how Byzantine political leadership, military strategy, cultural attitudes and social, institutional and demographic changes combined with the strengths and weaknesses of the empire's enemies to explain the paradoxes of Byzantium's long history.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
In AD 285 the emperor Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into two parts. The eastern part, the subject of this book, became known as the Eastern Roman Empire or, after the last of the western empire disappeared in 480, simply as the Roman Empire. Only after the former eastern empire also fell in 1453 did some scholars feel a need for a name without Rome in it for an empire that had not included Rome. Although the capital of the East had usually been at Constantinople, the term “Constantinopolitan Empire” was ungainly. The renamers settled on “Byzantine Empire” or “Byzantium,” Byzantium having been the name of the small town refounded as Constantinople in 324. For better or worse, this name has stuck, though historians disagree about the right date to begin using it. This book begins with 285, when the Eastern Roman Empire began its separate existence, but the town of Byzantium had no special importance as yet. I avoid calling the empire “Byzantine” until the fifth century, when Constantinople truly became its political and cultural capital and the western empire fell away.
Warren Treadgold

2. The Formation of Byzantium (285–457)

Abstract
Diocletian, like most of the short-lived emperors of the previous half-century, was a soldier from the Balkan peninsula, then called Illyricum. Level-headed and shrewd, Diocletian commanded the respect of those who knew or met him. His original name Diocles meant “Zeus’s Glory,” and he took it seriously, showing a special devotion to the king of the gods throughout his life. It was also a Greek name, though he Latinized it to Diocletian. Apparently he felt at ease speaking either Latin or Greek, the one the language of the army and government and the other the common tongue of the polyglot natives of the eastern part of the empire. In 284, at the age of about forty, he was head of the imperial bodyguard when he seized power in the East, while claiming someone else had murdered his predecessor. The next year, in a bloody battle in Illyricum, Diocletian disposed of his last rival, the brother of the emperor he had succeeded.
Warren Treadgold

3. Reconquest and Crisis (457–602)

Abstract
The eastern senate offered to elect Aspar emperor, which might have been the best way to assure his downfall. He cautiously declined, passing the crown on to his subordinate officer Leo. Like Marcian, Leo was in his late fifties, without a hereditary claim to the throne, a power base, a son to succeed him, or much of a reputation. In an attempt to enhance his frail legitimacy, Leo had himself crowned by the Patriarch of Constantinople, a ceremony that made a good enough impression to set a precedent for emperors in the future. Though Leo had the wits and will to be more than a figurehead, his barbarian master was far more powerful than he. Aspar commanded one of the two praesental armies, Aspar’s son Ardabur commanded the Army of the East, and Aspar’s ally Theoderic Strabo led the empire’s Ostrogothic allies in Thrace.
Warren Treadgold

4. Catastrophe and Containment (602–780)

Abstract
Phocas’ reign was practically doomed from the start. Aged fifty-five, a simple soldier from the Balkans as several of his predecessors had been, he had enough cunning to make up for his inexperience with the workings of government, but not to compensate for his lack of a legal claim to the throne. Any members of the old government whom he left alive were liable to plot against him; but the more of them he killed, the more he frightened the rest and their supporters into hostility. At first, apart from Maurice and his closest male relatives, Phocas executed only two officials. The year after his accession, when Maurice’s widow Con­stantina plotted to proclaim her son’s father-in-law Germanus, Phocas merely forced them both to enter the Church. But two years later, when Constantina and Germanus conspired again, Phocas executed them.
Warren Treadgold

5. Recovery and Victory (780–1025)

Abstract
At Leo IV’s death his widow Irene became regent for their nine-year-old son Constantine VI. An empress without the support of a strong emperor was always at a disadvantage at the Byzantine court, and Leo’s five younger brothers were all of age and obvious rivals for imperial power. But Irene, in her mid-twenties, was shrewd and iron-willed, with a firm commitment to restoring the icons that had already won herallies in the palace. Not two months after Leo’s death, she frustrated a conspiracy to proclaim one of his brothers, and had all five of them ordained priests.
Warren Treadgold

6. Wealth and Weakness (1025–1204)

Abstract
Nothing reveals Basil II’s narrow conception of his responsibilities so starkly as his lack of interest in the succession. Though he could hardly have disinherited his old and feeble brother Constantine VIII, Basil should at least have married one of Constantine’s daughters to a man fit to be emperor while she was young enough to bear children. Yet after a short and undistinguished reign even Constantine waited until he was on his deathbed to see his daughter Zoë married. The forty-nine-yearold Zoë cared mostly for cosmetics, and Constantine’s officials recommended her new husband Romanus Argyrus chiefly because they thought they could control him. Worse yet, similar bureaucrats were to run the government for most of the next half-century, always favoring malleable candidates for the throne.
Warren Treadgold

7. Restoration and Fall (1204–1461)

Abstract
The best proof of Byzantium’s underlying strength is that Byzantine states survived for more than two and ahalf centuries after the seemingly fatal Fourth Crusade. Strong and unified leadership was certainly not the reason. When the Crusaders stormed Constantinople, the deposed Alexius III Angelus still held the region of Thessalonica, while his son-in-law Theodore Lascaris held the northwest part of Byzantine Anatolia, supposedly in Alexius’ interest. The fugitive Alexius V held most of eastern Thrace. Alexius Comnenus, a grandson of the late emperor Andronicus, had seized the northern coast of Anatolia and declared himself emperor at Trebizond. Yet though he claimed to be the Byzantine emperor, Alexius, whom today we call the Emperor of Trebizond, was merely a local potentate. The rebels in southern Greece and southwest Anatoliahad purely local ambitions.
Warren Treadgold

8. Conclusion

Abstract
That Byzantium saw many dramatic reversals of fortune is obvious. Yet modern and Byzantine observers alike have disagreed about the importance of those changes in Byzantine history. The Byzantines, aware of how long their empire had lasted and assuming it had always been much as it was in their own times, usually underestimated change. In this modern scholars have sometimes followed their Byzantine sources and sometimes reacted against them. Occasionally disagreement among modern historians has been sharp, as in the dispute between those who think Byzantium became poorer between the tenth and twelfth centuries and those who thinkit became richer. More often, however, the modern disputes are over matters of degree, such as whether the political and military decline of the empire in the seventh century was utterly devastating or merely grave. In some cases, both sides have defined their positions so vaguely that they seem to disagree not so much about what occurred as about how best to describe it. For example, the controversy about whether Byzantine cities disappeared or merely shrankin the seventh century may simply hinge upon the size that each side considers the minimum to call a settlement a city.
Warren Treadgold
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