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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

1 - The Byzantine Commonwealth 1000–1550




That the rites and remains of the east Roman Empire made an impression on most of the peoples surrounding or settled among them is hardly surprising. Constantinople was purpose-built, a landmark not even the mightiest ‘barbarian’ warlord could hope to efface. With its numerous market places, massive walls and monuments such as the Golden Gate proclaiming a New Jerusalem and Christian triumph, the ‘God-protected city’ was a showcase for displays of wealth, social cohesion and military force. These material blessings were attributed by the palace ceremonies, art and orators to the piety of the emperors and their subjects – often termed simply ‘the Christians’ in the ceremonial acclamations – and to the empire’s central role in God’s plan for mankind. Constantinople itself was under the special protection of the Mother of God. In the medieval era Mary was venerated ever more dramatically in return for safeguarding her city, wonder-working icons such as the Hodegetria being paraded regularly through the streets in her honour.

Even furthest-flung outsiders could make the connection between Byzantine prosperity, striking-power and religious devotions. From his Orkney vantage point, Arnor the Earl’s Poet viewed Godas ‘ready patron of the Greeks and Garð-folk’. These ‘Garð–folk’ – Rus – had collectively come under the care of the patriarch of Constantinople, when in or around 988 their ruler, Vladimir, received a Byzantine religious mission and was himself baptised. A prime reason for Vladimir’s choice of the Orthodox form of Christianity was probably the divine ‘patronage’ – in terms of material wealth and social order – which their religion seemed to have secured. Vladimir flagged his personal associations with the senior emperor, by adopting his Christian name, Basil, and by marrying his sister, Anna.