3 Byzantium under the Macedonians

Byzantium under the Macedonians

Infobox Former Country
native_name = Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων
conventional_long_name = Byzantine Empire
common_name = Byzantium
year_start = 867
year_end = 1057
date_start = 24 September
date_end = 31 August
event_start = Murder of Michael III
event_end = Abdication of Michael VI
p1 = Byzantium under the Amorian dynasty
flag_p1 =
s1 = Byzantium under the Komnenoi
flag_s1 =

image_map_caption = The Byzantine Empire at the death of Basil II, 1025
capital = Constantinople
continent = Europe
common_languages = Greek, Armenian, Old Bulgarian and other South Slavic languages
religion = Orthodox Christianity
government_type = Absolute monarchy
title_leader = Emperor
leader1 = Basil I
year_leader1 = 867-886
leader2 = Michael VI
year_leader2 = 1056-1057
The Byzantine Empire reached its height under the Macedonian emperors of the late 9th, 10th, and early 11th centuries, when it gained control over the Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, and all of the territory of the tsar Samuel. The cities of the empire expanded, and affluence spread across the provinces because of the new-found security. The population rose, and production increased, stimulating new demand while also helping to encourage trade. Culturally, there was considerable growth in education and learning. Ancient texts were preserved and patiently re-copied. Byzantine art flourished, and brilliant mosaics graced the interiors of the many new churches.cite book|author=Norwich, John Julius|title=A Short History of Byzantium|publisher=Penguin|year=1998|isbn=0-14-025960-0] Though the empire was significantly smaller than during the reign of Justinian, it was also stronger, as the remaining territories were less geographically dispersed and more politically and culturally integrated.

Internal developments

Although traditionally attributed to Basil I (867–886), initiator of the Macedonian dynasty, the "Byzantine Renaissance" has been more recently ascribed to the reforms of his predecessor, Michael III (842–867) and his wife's counsellor, the erudite Theoktistos. The latter in particular favoured culture at the court, and, with a careful financial policy, steadily increased the gold reserves of the Empire. The rise of the Macedonian dynasty coincided with internal developments which strengthened the religious unity of the empire. [cite book|last=Treadgold|first=Warren|title=The Byzantine Revival, 780-842 |publisher=Stanford University Press|year=1991|isbn=0-804-71896-2] The iconoclast movement was experiencing a steep decline: this favoured its soft suppression by the emperors and the reconciliation of the religious strife that had drained the imperial resources in the previous centuries. Despite occasional tactical defeats, the administrative, legislative, cultural and economic situation continued to improve under Basil's successors, especially with Romanos I Lekapenos (920–944). The theme system reached its definitive form in this period. The Eastern Orthodox Church establishment began to loyally support the imperial cause, and the power of the landowning class was limited in favour of agricultural small holders, who made up an important part of the military force of the Empire. These favourable conditions contributed to the increasing ability of the emperors to wage war against the Arabs.

Wars against the Muslims

By 867, the empire had stabilised its position in both the east and the west, while the success of its defensive military structure had enabled the emperors to begin planning wars of reconquest in the east. The process of reconquest began with variable fortunes. The temporary reconquest of Crete (843) was followed by a crushing Byzantine defeat on the Bosporus, while the emperors were unable to prevent the ongoing Muslim conquest of Sicily (827–902). Using present day Tunisia as their launching pad, the Muslims conquered Palermo in 831, Messina in 842, Enna in 859, Syracuse in 878, Catania in 900 and the final Greek stronghold, the fortress of Taormina, in 902.

These drawbacks were later counterbalanced by a victorious expedition against Damietta in Egypt (856), the defeat of the Emir of Melitene (863), the confirmation of the imperial authority over Dalmatia (867) and Basil I's offensives towards the Euphrates (870s).

The threat from the Arab Muslims was meanwhile reduced by inner struggles and by the rise of the Turks in the east. Muslims received assistance however from the Paulician sect, which had found a large following in the eastern provinces of the Empire and, facing persecution under the Byzantines, often fought under the Arab flag. It took several campaigns to subdue the Paulicians, who were eventually defeated by Basil I.

In 904, disaster struck the empire when its second city, Thessaloniki, was sacked by an Arab fleet led by a Byzantine renegade. The Byzantines responded by destroying an Arab fleet in 908, and sacking the city of Laodicea in Syria two years later. Despite this revenge, the Byzantines were still unable to strike a decisive blow against the Muslims, who inflicted a crushing defeat on the imperial forces when they attempted to regain Crete in 911.

The situation on the border with the Arab territories remained fluid, with the Byzantines alternatively on the offensive or defensive. The Rus, who appeared near Constantinople for the first time in 860, constituted another new challenge. In 941 they appeared on the Asian shore of the Bosporus, but this time they were crushed, showing the improvements in the Byzantine military position after 907, when only diplomacy had been able to push back the invaders. The vanquisher of the Rus was the famous general John Kourkouas, who continued the offensive with other noteworthy victories in Mesopotamia (943): these culminated in the reconquest of Edessa (944), which was especially celebrated for the return to Constantinople of the venerated "Mandylion".

The soldier emperors Nikephoros II Phokas (reigned 963–969) and John I Tzimiskes (969–976) expanded the empire well into Syria, defeating the emirs of north-west Iraq and reconquering Crete and Cyprus. At one point under John, the empire's armies even threatened Jerusalem, far to the south. The emirate of Aleppo and its neighbours became vassals of the empire in the east, where the greatest threat to the empire was the Egyptian Fatimid kingdom.

Wars against the Bulgarians

The traditional struggle with the See of Rome continued, spurred by the question of religious supremacy over the newly Christianized Bulgaria. This prompted an invasion by the powerful tsar Simeon I in 894, but this was pushed back by the Byzantine diplomacy, which called on the help of the Hungarians. The Byzantines were in turn defeated, however, at the Battle of Bulgarophygon (896), and obliged to pay annual subsides to the Bulgars. Later (912) Simeon even had the Byzantines grant him the crown of "basileus" of Bulgaria and had the young emperor Constantine VII marry one of his daughters. When a revolt in Constantinople halted his dynastic project, he again invaded Thrace and conquered Adrianople.

A great imperial expedition under Leo Phokas and Romanos Lekapenos ended again with a crushing Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Anchialus (917), and the following year the Bulgars were free to ravage northern Greece up to Corinth. Adrianople was captured again in 923 and in 924 a Bulgar army laid siege to Constantinople. The situation in the Balkans improved only after Simeon's death in 927.

Under the emperor Basil II (reigned 976–1025), the Bulgars, who had conquered much of the Balkans from the Byzantines since their arrival three hundred years previously, became the target of annual campaigns by the Byzantine army. The war was to drag on for nearly twenty years, but eventually at the Battle of Kleidon the Bulgars were completely defeated.cite book|author=Angold, Michael|title=The Byzantine Empire, 1025-1204|publisher=Longman|year=1997|isbn=0-582-29468-1] The Bulgarian army was captured, and it is said that 99 out of every 100 men were blinded, with the remaining hundredth man left with one eye so as to lead his compatriots home. When tsar Samuel saw the broken remains of his once gallant army, he died of shock. In 1018, Bulgaria surrendered and became part of the empire. This stunning victory restored the Danube frontier, which had not been held since the days of the emperor Heraclius.

The empire also gained a new ally at this time in the new Varangian state in Kiev, from which the empire received an important mercenary force, the famous Varangian Guard, in exchange for the marriage of Basil's sister Anna to Vladimir I of Kiev. During this period the Byzantine princess Theophanu, wife of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, served as regent of the Holy Roman Empire, paving the way for the westward spread of Byzantine culture.


The Byzantine Empire now stretched to Armenia in the east, to Calabria in Southern Italy in the west.Norwich, John, "A short history of Byzantium"] Many successes had been achieved, ranging from the conquest of Bulgaria, to the annexation of parts of Georgia and Armenia, to the total annihilation of an invading force of Egyptians outside Antioch. Yet even these victories were not enough; Basil considered the continued Arab occupation of Sicily to be an outrage. Accordingly, he planned to reconquer the island, which had belonged to the empire for over three hundred years (c.550–c.900). However, his death in 1025 put an end to the project.

The 11th century was also momentous for its religious events. In 1054, relations between Greek-speaking Eastern and Latin-speaking Western traditions within the Christian Church reached a terminal crisis. Although there was a formal declaration of institutional separation, on July 16, when three papal legates entered the Hagia Sophia during Divine Liturgy on a Saturday afternoon and placed a bull of excommunication on the altar, the so-called Great Schism was actually the culmination of centuries of gradual separation. Although the schism was brought about by doctrinal disputes (in particular, Eastern refusal to accept the Western Church doctrine of the "filioque", or double procession of the Holy Spirit), disputes over administration and political issues had simmered for centuries. The formal separation of the Byzantine Orthodox Church and the Western Catholic Church would have wide ranging consequences for the future of Byzantium.


See also

* Byzantine Empire
* Byzantium under the Heraclians
* Byzantium under the Isaurians
* Byzantium under the Komnenoi
* Byzantium under the Palaiologoi
* Macedonian Renaissance

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