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About this book

The book is a clear, up-to-date, reassessment of the Byzantine empire during a crucial phase in the history of the Near East. Against a geopolitical background (well-illustrated with 14 maps), it covers the last decade of the Roman empire as a superpower of the ancient world, the catastrophic crisis of the seventh century and the means whereby its embattled Byzantine successor hung on in Constantinople and Asia Minor until the Abbasid Caliphate's decline opened up new perspectives for Christian power in the Near East. Not confined to any narrow definition of Byzantine history, the empire's neighbours, allies and enemies in Europe and Asia also receive extensive treatment.

Table of Contents

1. Sources for Early Medieval Byzantium

Abstract
As one would expect, this book is written on the basis of a body of Byzantine sources, written mostly in Greek between the seventh and the eleventh centuries, that includes chronicles, saints’ lives, law codes, property documents, inscriptions, the acts of church councils, works of theology, sermons, homilies, letters, panegyrics and handbooks to diplomacy, warfare, court ceremony and protocol. More evidence comes from archaeology, numismatics and art history; and the whole has been interpreted in the light of how regional geography shaped the historical development of the empire, and of how comparable societies developed elsewhere. But in fact this list is rather misleading. Even compared with other early medieval societies Byzantium is an obscure and ill-recorded world, and it is worth making clear at the outset of a book on Byzantium that it is based on significantly less evidence than is available for any of the other important Christian states of the early medieval world.
Mark Whittow

2. The Strategic Geography of the Near East

Abstract
Taking any modern map of the Near East and its neighbours large enough to show the whole region from the steppes of the Ukraine and southern Russia in the north to the deserts of Arabia in the south, and from the Balkans and Egypt in the west to the borders of Afghanistan in the east, six major geographical blocs will stand out: the Balkan peninsula, the steppes, the Fertile Crescent, the desert, and the plateaux of Anatolia and Iran. To understand the history of the Byzantine state and its place in the Near East it is essential to have a basic knowledge of the geography of these blocs and how they relate to each other. With so few written sources available geography becomes even more important than usual in setting the parameters to a convincing interpretation of the past.
Mark Whittow

3. The Roman World in 600

Abstract
IN the year 600 the Roman empire still included substantial territories in the central and western Mediterranean. In 533 Justinian had sent an expeditionary force to Africa under the command of Belisarios which reconquered the Vandal kingdom with its capital at Carthage. In 535 Belisarios had invaded Sicily and the following year begun the conquest of Italy. The Ostrogothic kingdom of Italy at first looked as if it would collapse as speedily as had its Vandal neighbour, but in fact Roman forces did not subdue the last Gothic stronghold until 561. Roman control of the whole of Italy proved short-lived, because in 568 the Lombards invaded from the Hungarian plain and rapidly occupied much of the Po valley in northern Italy, and the districts around Spoleto and Benevento in the centre and south respectively. By 600 it was probably clear that the Lombards were in Italy to stay, but the greater part of the peninsula was still in Roman hands. The Lombards had been ejected from much of the rich Po valley by a combined Roman-Frankish offensive in 590, and the key fortress city and former capital of the western Roman empire in the fifth century, Ravenna, was still Roman too. Further south, a block of imperial territory linked Ravenna to Rome, and extended south of the city to include Naples, Calabria, much of Apulia and the wealthy island of Sicily.
Mark Whittow

4. The Fall of the Old Order

Abstract
On 4 December 1691 the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Master of Stair, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel James Hamilton, warning him to prepare for a punitive campaign against the MacDonalds of Glencoe, ‘for the winter time is the only season in which we are sure the Highlanders cannot escape us, nor carry their wives, bairns, and cattle into the mountains’.1
Mark Whittow

5. How the Roman Empire Survived

Abstract
To Begin with a question of terminology. In previous chapters I have stressed the power, prosperity and stability of the Roman empire in 600. That empire was very different in a number of ways from the empire of the third century, let alone the first century Ad. Mention of the Roman empire can often conjure up images of marching legionaries, pagan temples and the Latin language. None of these characterised the empire in 600. The striking force of its army was now cavalry; it was Christian; and the dominant language was Greek. Yet it was still the same empire which had dominated the Near East continuously since the first century; indeed at the end of the sixth century it seemed more firmly entrenched than ever. The Chinese empire was a very different state in the tenth century than in the first century or the eighteenth. Even so there is an underlying continuity behind its cultural changes, and, despite fluctuations, its imperial ambitions were always focused on the same regions. As a result no one argues about calling this Far Eastern state in different periods, and under different dynasties, the Chinese empire. The same seems to apply to the Roman empire in 600. It had changed, but no more than one would expect in the history of a state over several centuries.
Mark Whittow

6. The Shock of Defeat

Abstract
So Far the crisis which overwhelmed the late Roman empire at the beginning of the seventh century and the Byzantine empire’s ability to survive has been presented in strategic and structural terms. Would this analysis have made sense to contemporary Byzantines?
Mark Whittow

7. The Byzantine Response: On to the Defensive

Abstract
As Seen in Chapter 5, the Byzantine army was a late Roman institution which survived the crisis of the seventh century, and whose skills, organisation, and sense of tradition were a vital factor in the empire’s very existence.
Mark Whittow

8. The Byzantine Empire and its Non-Muslim Neighbours, c.600–c.950

Abstract
The late Roman empire had not simply been a Greek state, but rather a multi-ethnic Near Eastern empire. Forced on to the defensive in a desperate battle to survive, its Byzantine successor was very much more of an inward-looking institution preoccupied with preserving its orthodox purity. Yet Byzantium could not ignore the other non-Muslim peoples of the Near East. Transcaucasia and the Balkans both represented sources of military manpower to offset the huge resources of the caliphate, and if Byzantium were to hope to break out of its narrow limits as merely the empire of Constantinople then these were both areas that had to be brought within the Byzantine political and cultural orbit. Equally important was the Byzantine relationship with the steppe world which was the only Near Eastern society with a military potential that might approach that of the caliphate. Nomad allies had played a vital role in Herakleios’ victories of the late 620s, and as long as the Arabs posed any threat to Constantinople it had to be an essential part of Byzantine diplomacy to keep good relations with whoever dominated the steppes north of the Caucasus.
Mark Whittow

9. The Age of Reconquest, 863–976

Abstract
In the Summer of 860 Umar, the emir of Melitene (known to Arabs and modern Turks as Malatya) and his ally Karbeas, the leader of the Paulician sect who controlled the territory around Tephrike on the Upper Euphrates, raided deep into Byzantine Anatolia. He returned with over 12,000 head of livestock. The attacks were followed up by raids from Tarsos and from the Syrian frontier districts which netted over 15,000 horses, cattle, donkeys and sheep, as well as an unknown number of prisoners. Finally a seaborne raid from the Syrian ports sacked the important Byzantine naval base at Attaleia (modern Antalya) on the south coast of Asia Minor. 860 was exceptionally dreadful for the inhabitants of Byzantine Anatolia, but the raiding forces which struck the plateau in that year are representative of all that had gone wrong for the Byzantine empire on its eastern borders since the seventh century.1
Mark Whittow

10. The Reign of Basil II, 976–1025

Abstract
As Seen from the perspective of the eighteen-year old Basil II and that of his closest advisors the world in 976 was one which had changed radically over the previous century. When Basil’s namesake, his great great grandfather, Basil I, seized the throne in 867 the empire’s eastern borders had not reached the Taurus and Anti-Taurus ranges; Armenia had effectively been an Arab sphere of influence, and the long-standing alliance with the Khazar qaghanate had been one of the fixed points of imperial policy. In the Balkans the empire had faced the powerful Bulgar state. Crete and Cyprus had been in Arab hands, and Sicily had rapidly been going the same way. On the south Italian mainland the imperial presence had amounted to little more than the outposts of Otranto and Reggio. At John Tzimiskes’ death in January 976 the empire stretched to Syria and the Djazīra. The former raiding emirates of Melitene, Kālīkalā and Tarsos were the seats of Byzantine strategoi; Aleppo was a Byzantine protectorate and the ruler of Damascus recognised himself to be the emperor’s subject. Western Armenia was imperial territory to within a day’s ride of Lake Van; further east most of the greater Armenian naxarars were effectively the emperor’s clients.
Mark Whittow
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