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The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire c.500–1492
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    Cameron, Averil 2011. THINKING WITH BYZANTIUM. Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 21, p. 39.

    Holmes, Catherine 2006. New Approaches to Byzantine History. History Compass, Vol. 4, Issue. 1, p. 172.

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Byzantium lasted a thousand years, ruled to the end by self-styled 'emperors of the Romans'. It underwent kaleidoscopic territorial and structural changes, yet recovered repeatedly from disaster: even after the near-impregnable Constantinople fell in 1204, variant forms of the empire reconstituted themselves. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire tells the story, tracing political and military events, religious controversies and economic change. It offers clear, authoritative chapters on the main events and periods, with more detailed chapters on particular outlying regions, neighbouring powers or aspects of Byzantium. With aids such as a glossary, an alternative place-name table and references to English translations of sources, it will be valuable as an introduction. However, it also offers stimulating new approaches and important new findings, making it essential reading for postgraduates and for specialists.


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  • 1 - Justinian and His Legacy (500–600)
    pp 97-129
    • By Andrew Louth, Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, University of Durham
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    The beginning of the sixth century saw Anastasius on the imperial throne, ruling an empire that was still thought of as essentially the Roman empire, coextensive with the world of the Mediterranean. Anastasius inherited, and promoted, religious divisions that were to cast a long shadow over the Christian Roman empire. Anastasius was succeeded by Justin I, a peasant from Illyria, who had risen through the ranks to become count of the excubitors. Justin's first act was to repudiate his predecessors' attempts to achieve unity among the Christians by ignoring, or even implicitly condemning, the council of Chalcedon: the Henotikon was revoked and Chalcedonian orthodoxy became imperial policy. Justin announced his election and religious policy to Pope Hormisdas, who sent legates to Constantinople. Justinian died childless on 14 November 565. Justin II continued, or reinstated, Justinian's policy of religious orthodoxy had earlier inclined towards monophysitism. In renewing his uncle's religious policy, Justin restored religious harmony between east and west.
  • 2a - Persia and the Sasanian Monarchy (224–651)
    pp 130-155
    • By Zeev Rubin, Professor of Ancient History, Tel-Aviv University
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    The Sasanian Empire embraced two distinct geographical areas, the very fertile lowlands of Mesopotamia and the Iranian uplands, which were separated from each other by the mighty Zagros chain stretching from the Kurdistan highlands to the fringes of the Persian Gulf in the south. The established view that the Sasanian shahs relied on the Zoroastrian priesthood's support, and as a consequence actively encouraged their beliefs and enhanced their power, has been largely modified in recent decades. The Sasanian monarchy has a reputation for being better organised and more centralised than its Arsacid predecessor. In an empire which minted a stable silver coinage, the drahm, throughout most of its history, the continuing resort to land-grants in return for military service calls for an explanation. The last decades of the Sasanian dynasty are the story of a chain of violent upheavals, exposing all the inherent weaknesses of the huge empire.
  • 2b - Armenia (400–600)
    pp 156-172
    • By R. W. Thomson, Formerly Calouste Gulbenkian Professor of Armenian Studies, University of Oxford
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    Armenia always had an ambiguous place between the major powers, be they the East Roman empire and Sasanian Iran, the Byzantine empire and the caliphate, or the Ottoman empire and the Safavids. Armenian lands west of the border with Iran were then fully integrated into the empire as the four provinces of Armenia. It was in eastern Armenia, the sector under Persian suzerainty, which composed about four-fifths of the earlier kingdom, that the major cultural and religious developments of this period had their origin. The development of a specifically Armenian literature brought several consequences, including an increasing sense of solidarity among Armenians on either side of the Byzantine-Iranian border. The attention of Armenian historians moves from Vahan's success to the involvement of Armenia in the Byzantine-Persian wars of the late sixth and early seventh centuries. They ignore the growing estrangement of the Armenian from the imperial church, a rift with cultural and political consequences of the first magnitude.
  • 2c - The Arabs to the Time of the Prophet
    pp 173-195
    • By Lawrence Conrad, Professor of the History and Culture of the Middle East, Asia–Africa Institute, University of Hamburg
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    Pre-Islamic Arabia played an important role in early Islamic preaching of the Word. In explaining the success of Islam and the Arab conquerors, scholars and commentators interpreted Islam's emergence from Arabia as part of God's divine plan. The social organisation of pre-Islamic Arabia was closely bound up with considerations of religion, and it is in this area that problems of methodology and source criticism are most acute. It is difficult to generalise on the notion of an Arabian economy, since the internal economic situation in the peninsula varied from place to place and depended on whether a community was settled or nomadic. The spread of Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism in Arabia reflects the interest of external powers from an early date. In fact, it was the great triad of politics, trade and religion that determined the course of events there from late antiquity onwards, with trade providing an imperial momentum later transferred to the other two factors.
  • 3 - Western Approaches (500–600)
    pp 196-220
    • By John Moorhead, McCaughey Professor of History, University of Queensland
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    Throughout the political history of western Europe, there have been few periods of such dramatic change as the fifth century. Western Europe had moved decisively into a post-Roman period, and the middle ages had begun. This chapter reviews the Vandal war, through the eyewitness account of Belisarius' legal assistant, Procopius. The nomadic Berbers had been pressing increasingly on the Vandal kingdom, and they were to pose a major problem to Byzantine Africa, for their practice of lightly armed and mobile combat made them difficult opponents. In 540 it must have seemed that the Gothic war, like the Vandal war, had come to a wished-for conclusion. Despite the waning of Byzantine power in the west, the latter continued to be vitally interested in the east. Emperors, moreover, gave indications that they still regarded the west as important. A ready market remained for imported luxury items.
  • 4 - Byzantium Transforming (600–700)
    pp 221-248
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    The seventh and eighth centuries have been regarded as the Byzantine dark ages, though historians have begun to recognise that it is only in respect of traditional historical literary material that one can speak of a paucity of sources for the period. This chapter outlines the political history of the period 630-790. The century began with Maurice on the imperial throne, urging his army to resist the incursion of Slavs who were seeking to cross the Danube from the north bank. At the beginning of the seventh century the administration of the empire, both civil and military, was essentially what had emerged from the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine in the late third and early fourth centuries. By the end of the eighth century quite different forms of administration were in place. Two canons, namely Canon 100 and Canon 82, bear witness to the place of religious art in the Byzantine world.
  • 5 - State of Emergency (700–850)
    pp 249-291
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    The Byzantine iconoclast period is a dark age whose obscurity is only randomly illuminated by the few remaining sources, and even these are difficult to interpret. A series of natural catastrophes afflicted Constantinople and its hinterland in the middle of the century. The overall demographic decline had two important consequences: shortage of manpower became a principal factor in imperial policy, and this in turn transformed the landscape of the empire. The debate over the arrangements for recruitment of the army is connected with the debate over whether the tax system worked in cash or in kind. The state of emergency in the empire led to a tightening up of the administration and a change in the emperor's role. The switch in imperial religious policy was the work of Irene and of Tarasios, the patriarch whom she had chosen after the death of his predecessor, Paul IV.
  • 6 - After Iconoclasm (850–886)
    pp 292-304
    • By Shaun Tougher, Senior Lecturer in Ancient History, Cardiff School of History and Archaeology, Cardiff University
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    Two emperors dominate the generation or so following iconoclasm, Michael III the Amorian and Basil I the Macedonian. A clear understanding of the reigns of Michael and Basil is fraught with difficulty given the nature of our main narrative sources. A hostile view of Basil is provided by the chronicle of Symeon the Logothete, which also treats Michael more ambiguously. Despite these sources' polarity and emphasis on court politics it is clear that there was continuity in the goals of the two regimes. The security of the east was paramount, although the west was still of concern. The main concern of Byzantium was the Muslim threat. The focus fell naturally on the eastern frontier, beyond which lay the Abbasid caliphate. The difficult court politics towards the end of the reign revolve around Basil's heir Leo, but can perhaps be opened up to reveal larger issues.
  • 7 - Religious Missions
    pp 305-332
    • By Sergey Ivanov, Professor of Byzantine Literature, Moscow State University
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    Although Christianity would seem by its very nature to be a missionary religion, both the sense of what mission means and the specific motivations of missionaries have varied as each generation reads afresh the Gospels' injunctions. During the sixth century Christian space was very significantly expanded to centralised missionary policies. Justinian's aims were purely political, as is clear from the account of the baptism of the Abkhazians by Procopius of Caesarea. A notable upswing in the empire's missionary activities may be observed around the turn of the ninth century. The role attributed to Patriarch Photios in ninth century Byzantine missionary activity is usually exaggerated. The attempt to convert the northern Caucasus had been instigated by the Abkhazian principality rather than directly by Byzantium, but Nicholas was personally responsible for several significant initiatives. In the Byzantine mind the concept of universal Christianity was linked to the idea of world empire, which the Byzantines never entirely abandoned.
  • 8 - Armenian Neighbours (600–1045)
    pp 333-364
    • By T. W. Greenwood, Lecturer in Mediaeval History, University of St Andrews
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    Anyone wishing to unravel the history of the relationship between Byzantium and Armenia from late antiquity into the eleventh century has to confront a series of historical and historiographical challenges. As the literary sources record the development of Byzantium's relationship with Armenia, they tend to do so in terms of the principal Armenian political and ecclesiastical leaders. Byzantium cultivated multiple ties with several noble houses at the same time. The literary sources reveal almost nothing about the reigns of John-Smbat III Bagratuni and Ashot IV the Brave between 1022 and 1041. Contemporary inscriptions and colophons, however, confirm ongoing relations with Byzantium, and the numismatic evidence is persuasive. From the reign of Nikephoros II Phokas, Armenia switched from a silver-based coinage to a gold- and copper-based coinage, using exclusively Byzantine issues. Armenian princes looked to Byzantium to bolster their own status within Armenia through the concession of titles, gifts and money.
  • 9 - Confronting Islam: Emperors Versus Caliphs (641–c. 850)
    pp 365-394
    • By Walter Kaegi, Professor of History, University of Chicago
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    Emperors, caliphs and amirs took responsibility for major operations on the Byzantine-Arab frontiers intermittently between the seventh and the mid-ninth century, but none persisted in campaigning in person. The Arabs' dramatic conquest of Byzantium's eastern territories in the 630s was followed by four further periods of Muslim expansion, by gradual stabilisation, and then by Byzantine strengthening and eventual territorial recovery. The most vulnerable period for Byzantium came immediately after the disastrous battle of the river Yarmuk in 636, during the imperial succession crisis triggered by Heraclius' death in 641 and in the earliest years of his successor Constans II. Byzantine military effectiveness against the Arabs was mixed. The very ease with which Mu'awiyas forces penetrated Anatolia in the mid-650s indicates that, in the first fifteen years following the early Islamic conquests, the government in Constantinople failed to mount effective resistance against the Muslims on the Anatolian plateau.
  • 10 - Western Approaches (700–900)
    pp 395-432
    • By Michael McCormick, Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History, Harvard University
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    The early medieval societies of Byzantium and western Europe that emerged from the late Roman world shared more than a few institutions, traditions and religious experiences. The upheavals of the seventh century had transformed Byzantium. The old urban fabric of the Roman empire largely gave way. Broad economic structures had once spanned the Mediterranean and fostered Byzantine commercial interaction with the west. The sweeping changes of the seventh century naturally affected communications between the two former halves of the empire. Constantinople took the diplomatic initiative in order to defend its own vital interests on its western flanks, especially in Italy. Diplomatic interaction had cultural ramifications. Linguistic evidence yields some tentative insights into technology transfers and material culture, since words could be borrowed with the thing they designated. Byzantium's interaction with the west appears chiefly political and cultural. Economic links to the imperial metropolis seem distinctly secondary.
  • 11 - Byzantine Italy (680–876)
    pp 433-464
    • By Thomas Brown, Reader in History, University of Edinburgh
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    By the last quarter of the seventh century the Byzantine areas of Italy had experienced over a century of upheaval. The loss of Carthage to the Arabs and the general weakening of imperial power led to a dramatic decline in imports such as pottery from Africa and the east, and to an increase in the importance of local Italian centres of production. The impact of 'une sorte de snobisme byzantinisant' proved more than a passing fashion, since it helped to build support for renewed political relations between the Roman elite and Byzantium in the tenth century. The major area within the central bloc of formerly Byzantine territories, the exarchate and the Pentapolis, was also claimed by the popes after 751, but their authority there was always much less effective. The term Calabria was originally applied to a late Roman civilian province corresponding to the Terra d'Otranto.
  • 12 - The Middle Byzantine Economy (600–1204)
    pp 465-492
    • By Mark Whittow, Lecturer in Modern History, University of Oxford
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    The Byzantine economy is an important subject on a number of grounds. It is arguably the key to the history of the Byzantine state, society and culture. A once widespread picture of late antique decline has been replaced by an appreciation of the wealth and complexity of the late antique economy. By the tenth century at latest it is clear that the Mediterranean economy was reviving and, equally, that the Byzantine world shared in this process. Using the same indices that plotted the decline of the late antique economy, buildings, pottery, coinage, settlement surveys and pollen analysis, a new prosperity can be seen emerging. The crucial issue for the twelfth century as a whole is not taxation, but the role of the great landed estates. A number of documentary texts make it plain that vast areas of the Komnenian empire were run as the estates of various Constantinopolitan landlords.
  • 13 - Equilibrium to Expansion (886–1025)
    pp 493-536
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    The dislocation of the resource-rich Abbasid caliphate was a mixed blessing for Byzantium. The events of the mid-tenth century tend to bear out the unarticulated grounds for imperial statesmen's caution in exploiting Abbasid disarray. The jihad would eventually overturn the underlying equilibrium, and equilibrium was the best that palace-based emperors could realistically hope for. The reign of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus as senior and dominant emperor has traditionally been viewed as the apogee of Byzantium as a great power resplendent in culture and learning. It would be more accurate to say that the gathering strength of the economy and manpower began to be harnessed to imperial politics in spectacular ways, in the palace and on the battlefield. As the ruler of a greatly enlarged empire, Basil became his own general, thereby dispensing with the military establishment which had been the mainstay of governance in the first years his reign. Basil's dominions were half as extensive again as those of Constantine VII.
  • 14 - Western Approaches (900–1025)
    pp 537-559
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    Byzantium's relations with the Latin west in the period 900-950 have a Cheshire cat character in comparison with ninth-century exchanges. Although Byzantium's most active concerns lay in the Balkan and Mediterranean worlds, the empire also maintained some contacts with potentates based north of the Alps. Increased Byzantine attention to Otto I during the late 940s may have been induced by recent Bavarian victories over the Hungarians. The nature and extent of the impact of Theophano on Ottonian court culture is controversial and ambivalent. The reaction of the Byzantine government to Otto's experiment was as mixed as that of the Saxon nobility. Byzantium's build-up of power in southern Italy antagonised the papacy and the western emperor, but their retaliatory capability was very limited. It was small groups of alien predators whose energies, greed and organisational skills wore down the Byzantine authorities in the mid-eleventh century.
  • 15 - Byzantium and Southern Italy (876–1000)
    pp 560-582
    • By G. A. Loud, Professor of Medieval Italian History, University of Leeds
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    The last seventy years of the ninth century were an era of disorder and continued crisis in southern Italy. After 915 the main problem for the Byzantine government was disaffection among their provinces' inhabitants, combined with the ambitions of the princes of Capua to extend their rule towards the Adriatic coast. The conflict between the two empires in the 960s had a further aspect, however, and one which was of very considerable significance for southern Italy. The Byzantines' reaction was to reorganise the church in Apulia, to create new archiepiscopal sees rivalling Benevento, and to ensure that the Apulian church remained loyal to Constantinople. In the principality of Capua-Benevento family stability was ensured by joint rule between brothers, as well as between father and son. In the 970s the growing power of the prince of Capua-Benevento was threatening to take over those parts of southern Italy not under Byzantine rule.
  • 16 - Belle Époque or Crisis? (1025–1118)
    pp 583-626
    • By Michael Angold, Professor Emeritus of Byzantine History, University of Edinburgh
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    Modern historiography has singled out the period from 1025 to 1118 as the watershed of Byzantine history. George Ostrogorsky provided the classic interpretation. Constantinople was disproportionately large and gave a false impression of Byzantine strength. It drew its wealth and population from well beyond the political frontiers of the Byzantine empire. When pondering the collapse of the Byzantine empire in the eleventh century, it must be remembered that Basil II left his successors a poisoned legacy. It would be hard to square the financial difficulties that the imperial government faced from the death of Basil II onwards with rapid economic growth. In modern historical writing the schism of 1054 dominates the end of Monomachos' reign. The work of John Italos was just one more sign of the cultural vitality of the eleventh century. Many great families were not included in the Komnenian circle and it was from these that the main opposition to Alexios' regime came.
  • 17 - The Empire of the Komnenoi (1118–1204)
    pp 627-663
    • By Paul Magdalino, Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Byzantine History, University of St Andrews
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    Between the death of Alexios I Komnenos and the establishment of the Latin empire of Constantinople, eight emperors ruled in the eastern Roman capital. The empire's involvement with the west derived partly from its historic interest in the Italian peninsula, and partly from the consequences of its attempt to use western military power to restore its position in Asia Minor. The Byzantine state was one of the most centralised in the medieval world, and never more so than in the period 1081-1180, when the loss of central and eastern Anatolia forced the empire's military elite, as well as its bureaucratic elite, to identify with the capital as never before. Territorial contraction thus accentuated the already marked tendency of the Byzantine aristocracy to think fiscally rather than territorially, to invest in office-holding rather than land-holding. Under the successors of Manuel I the Komnenian system, centred on Constantinople, was programmed for self-destruction.
  • 18 - Balkan Borderlands (1018–1204)
    pp 664-691
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    Byzantine emperors desired stability and security in the peripheral regions of the empire so as to continue controlling and exploiting the productive lands which provisioned the principal cities, most importantly Constantinople. These also yielded tax revenues to support the apparatus of government. Basil II's efforts to consolidate military control of the north-western limits of Bulgaria have left clear traces in the archaeological record. The reorganisation of the western Balkan lands in the mid-eleventh century took place against a background of renewed nomad threats to Paradounabon. Payments and opportunities for trade failed to prevent a massive migration of Pechenegs into Byzantine lands in 1043. In the early years of his reign Manuel I Komnenos remained committed to his father's policies in the east. The crusader principalities, particularly Antioch, were priorities, and he was prepared to tolerate both increased Hungarian influence in Sirmium and the Venetian domination of Dalmatia.
  • 19 - Raiders and Neighbours: The Turks (1040–1304)
    pp 692-728
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    A strong vein of mutual toleration characterised relations between the Byzantine and the Turkish ruling families in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Individual careerists and exiles moved between their respective courts in quest of advancement or asylum, and the Seljuq sultan showed little inclination to take full advantage of those occasions when the Byzantine administration in western Asia Minor was in disarray. The coming of the Mongols, their erosion of the power of the Rum sultanate to the advantage of individual warlords and their savage measures against local populations in eastern Asia Minor, that prompted the migration of sizable numbers of Turks westwards, swamping the Byzantine defences. The Turkish conquest of 1302-5 was a simple nomadic invasion, seeing that sedentary and transhumant elements had long co-existed in the border zone. Byzantium's former possessions in western Anatolia were divided between various Turkish warlords, who managed to establish successful principalities along the coasts of the Aegean and the Sea of Marmara.

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