Monday, October 17, 2016

5 Great Byzantine Army Leaders

Justinian I (482-565)
One of the most spectacular features of Justinian's reign was the recovery of large stretches of land around the Western Mediterranean basin that had slipped out of Imperial control in the 5th century. As a Christian Roman emperor, Justinian considered it his divine duty to restore the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries. Although he never personally took part in military campaigns, he boasted of his successes in the prefaces to his laws and had them commemorated in art. The re-conquests were in large part carried out by his general Belisarius.

Bardas Phokas (died 989)
In 978 Bardas was delivered from his prison cell by the eunuch Basil Lekapenos, Basil II's uncle and de facto regent. He was dispatched in disguise to his native Cappadocia to stir up the local aristocracy against Skleros, who had revolted against imperial authorities and advanced to the Hellespont. Despite several initial setbacks, and with the assistance of a Georgian army led by Tornikios, Phokas eventually suppressed the revolt, gaining victory in single combat with Skleros. For his vital services to the crown, he was rewarded with a coveted office of Domestic of the Scholae and at once led the Byzantine armies to reconquer Aleppo from the Saracens. Later, to quote Psellos, "he was given the privilege of a triumph and took his place among the personal friends of his sovereign."

Basil II (958-1025)
In 987/8, a seven-year truce was signed with the Fatimids, stipulating an exchange of prisoners, the recognition of the Byzantine emperor as protector of the Christians under Fatimid rule and of the Fatimid Caliph as protector of the Muslims under Byzantine control, and the replacement of the name of the Abbasid Caliph by that of the Fatimid Caliph in the Friday prayer in the mosque of Constantinople.[12][13] Nevertheless, in 991 the Fatimids launched a campaign against the Hamdanid Emirate of Aleppo, a Byzantine protectorate, perhaps in the belief that Byzantium would not interfere. Under the governor of Damascus, Manjutakin, the Fatimids scored a series of successes against the Hamdanids and their Byzantine allies, including a major victory at the Battle of the Orontes against the doux of Antioch, Michael Bourtzes, in September 994. Bourtzes' defeat forced Basil to intervene personally in the East: in a lightning campaign he rode with his army through Asia Minor in sixteen days and reached Aleppo in April 995, forcing the Fatimid army to retreat without giving battle. The Byzantines besieged Tripolis unsuccessfully and occupied Tartus, which they refortified and garrisoned with Armenian troops. The Fatimid caliph al-Aziz now prepared to take the field in person against the Byzantines and initiated large-scale preparations, but they were cut short upon his death.
Alexios I Komnenos (1048-1118)
Alexios was Byzantine emperor from 1081 to 1118. Although he was not the founder of the Komnenian dynasty, it was during his reign that the Komnenos family came to full power. Inheriting a collapsing empire and faced with constant warfare during his reign against both the Seljuq Turks in Asia Minor and the Normans in the western Balkans, Alexios was able to curb the Byzantine decline and begin the military, financial, and territorial recovery known as the Komnenian restoration. The basis for this recovery were various reforms initiated by Alexios. His appeals to Western Europe for help against the Turks were also the catalyst that likely contributed to the convoking of the Crusades.

Michael VIII Palaiologos (1259-1282)
Michael VIII was the founder of the Palaiologan dynasty that would rule the Byzantine Empire until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. He recovered Constantinople from the Latin Empire in 1261 and transformed the Empire of Nicaea into a restored Byzantine Empire.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

5 Beautifully Crafted Imperial Byzantine Coins

Hyperpyron of Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (1118-1180)

Hyperpyron of Alexios I Komnenos (1081-1118)

John III Doukas (1221-1254)

Scyphate Electrum Hyperpyron, Andronicus II & Michael IX, (1295-1320) 
Constantine VIII (960 – 11 November 1028)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Masterpieces of Byzantine and Early Christian Art from Syria

An article from the Greek newspaper Kathimerini:
 The Syrian Mosaic Pavement Documentation project, which was signed in 2005, foresaw the full documentation of the country’s floor mosaics and annual education programs for Syrian postgraduate students to help them keep abreast of technological developments.
Click here to read more.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Greek Manuscripts Project from the British Library

The British Library platform for the study of Greek Manuscripts has been launched.

Explore some of the highlights of the British Library's collection items, read articles by leading experts on Greek manuscripts, discover themes running through the collections, and watch videos on key topics.
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Sunday, July 24, 2016

A History of Basil II's Reign (958-1025)

A detailed account of Basil's reign by Catherine Holmes:

For Byzantine and modern historians alike the reign of Basil II marks the apogee of the Middle Byzantine Empire. Between 976 and 1025 Byzantine territorial and cultural frontiers expanded considerably. Bulgaria was annexed in 1018. In the east Basil also absorbed the Georgian princedom of Tao and the Armenian state of Vaspurakan. Towards the end of his reign Byzantine forces became more active in southern Italy, consolidating and expanding Byzantine authority in the face of a variety of powers including the Ottonian emperors of Germany. At the time of his death the emperor was planning to invade Muslim Sicily. It was also during Basil's reign that Vladimir, prince of Kiev, converted to Christianity.[[1]] In later centuries Basil the 'Bulgarslayer' came to be compared with the most prestigious and successful emperors of Late Antiquity. Michael Choniates writing in the early thirteenth century bracketed Basil with Heraclius (610-641). Basil's reputation was a powerful propaganda tool for successive imperial dynasties. The Comnenian emperors in the twelfth century consistently sought to associate their images with Basil. Michael VIII Palaeologus translated Basil's relics from their original burial place at the Hebdomon (see below) to his own family monastery near Selymbria.[[2]] Yet, despite this glorious posthumous reputation, Basil experienced many setbacks during his own lifetime. Civil war was endemic in the first thirteen years of his adult reign. His long campaign against the Bulgarians included several heavy defeats. Even after his annexation of Bulgaria, dissent persisted within Byzantium itself. Moreover, within half a century of Basil's death, the empire had disintegrated, torn apart by internal discord and external adversaries. Some historians argue that Byzantium's collapse in the eleventh century should be attributed to Basil's own overweening ambition, arguing that the emperor's campaigns overstretched the capacities of the empire.[[3]] In what follows I will argue rather a different case. Despite his fearsome military image, Basil's approach to government was flexible enough to accommodate his territorial conquests. The decline that occurred after his death was caused by factors outside the emperor's own control.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

1500-Year-Old Underground Byzantine Church Is Found in Turkey

Last February, archaeologists unearthed a unique rock-carved underground church in Nevsehir, in the central Turkish region of Cappadocia. The church was decorated with never before seen frescoes depicting Jesus’ Ascension, the Final Judgement, Jesus feeding the multitudes, and portraits of saints and prophets.The discovery, made during excavations and cleaning operations in an underground city recently uncovered as part of an urban project in Nevsehir, is located within a castle that might date back to the fifth century. Authorities expect it will make Cappadocia an even more important pilgrimage center for Orthodox Christians.

Semih İstanbulluoğlu, the archaeologist who heads the works for both the underground city and the church, explained that the walls of the church collapsed because of snow and rain, but that they will be fixed as part of the restoration project. Frescoed sections will have to be collected one by one and pieced together.

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity

An exhibition on late antique textile is opened in Manhattan:
The Spring exhibition, Designing Identity: The Power of Textiles in Late Antiquity, offers intimate glimpses into the lives of those who commissioned and used textiles and more sweeping views across Late Antique society (roughly third to seventh century CE). The exhibition brings together over fifty textiles of diverse materials, techniques, and motifs to explore how clothing and cloth furnishings expressed ideals of self, society, and culture. By their valuable materials and virtuoso execution, the textiles displayed their owners’ wealth and discernment. To modern viewers, the materials and techniques also attest to developments around the Mediterranean world and farther east along the routes of the silk trade. The Late Antique owners, in choosing from a vast repertory of motifs, represented (hopefully more than actually) the prosperity and well-being of their households. The owners represented themselves through the distinctively gendered imagery of manly and womanly virtues in mythological and Christian subjects so that in these textiles, we see distinctly personal manifestations of the religious transformation of the Roman Empire into a Christian Empire.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

John Haldon: The Empire That Would Not Die The Paradox of Eastern Roman Survival, 640–740

John Haldon revisits the Byzantine crisis of the 7th c. in a groundbreaking new book:

The eastern Roman Empire was the largest state in western Eurasia in the sixth century. Only a century later, it was a fraction of its former size. Surrounded by enemies, ravaged by warfare and disease, the empire seemed destined to collapse. Yet it did not die. In this holistic analysis, John Haldon elucidates the factors that allowed the eastern Roman Empire to survive against all odds into the eighth century.By 700 CE the empire had lost three-quarters of its territory to the Islamic caliphate. But the rugged geography of its remaining territories in Anatolia and the Aegean was strategically advantageous, preventing enemies from permanently occupying imperial towns and cities while leaving them vulnerable to Roman counterattacks.
The more the empire shrank, the more it became centered around the capital of Constantinople, whose ability to withstand siege after siege proved decisive. Changes in climate also played a role, permitting shifts in agricultural production that benefitted the imperial economy.At the same time, the crisis confronting the empire forced the imperial court, the provincial ruling classes, and the church closer together. State and church together embodied a sacralized empire that held the emperor, not the patriarch, as Christendom’s symbolic head.
Despite its territorial losses, the empire suffered no serious political rupture. What remained became the heartland of a medieval Christian Roman state, with a powerful political theology that predicted the emperor would eventually prevail against God’s enemies and establish Orthodox Christianity’s world dominion.

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