Friday, July 26, 2013

Bessarion to Bessarion: The Cardinal's Disillusionment with the West

Imagine you thought you'd spent your entire life in the service of others trying to save your country from the threat of annihilation and slavery. Believing cooperation with an enemy you share religion with was preferable to the one you don't, you had labored to unite your coreligionists in the West to work together and crusade against your enemies before it was too late. However, all your efforts were for naught when the capital of your country and your adopted home was seized and enslaved by your enemies without hardly any of your coreligionists you've been cooperating with blinking an eye. Because of the strategic importance of your country's capital, the enemy can now spread quicker and quicker with fewer impediments. Like dominoes, successive kingdoms fall to your enemy and your attempts to warn your coreligionists in the West of the dangers have been mocked and ridiculed. Even though you once were a candidate for Pope, people call you crazy for your attempts to mobilize an army against your enemy and stem their spread. Now years later, in spite of your efforts your most prominent ally has suffered a major setback at the hands of the enemy in Greece leaving the door wide open for him to invade Italy. And yet few people seem to care.

This is the story of the cardinal Bessarion, a Greek scholar from Trebizond, who spent his life trying to save the decaying Byzantine Empire from the onslaught of the burgeoning Ottoman state. He was a key scholar and patron at the beginning of the Renaissance, who taught Greek to Westerners when that language was still seldom known in Western Europe, and assembled one of the world's largest collections of Greek manuscripts. The debt that Western society owes him intellectually is great because without his efforts and inspiration, a great number of the Greek works Western society loves and cherishes might otherwise have perished.

This letter that follows is a unique piece of Bessarion's correspondence with his friend Bessarion. Unlike much of the published Greek correspondence we have from the time, this is a relatively unpolished Latin piece detailing Bessarion's disillusionment with the Western world he came to live in to facilitate Greek and Western cooperation. In fact, Bessarion's Latin ghostwriter would not only improve the style and organization of the letter but also deleted its more questionable content before the letter was included in a collection meant to convince Westerners to join a Crusade against the Turks. The letter was published in John Monfasani, “Bessarion Latinus” Rinascimento 2.21 (1981) 196-201. Republished as item II in Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Emigrés (Aldershot: Variorum Reprints, 1995).

Stylistically, I have tried to render idiomatic English above all. Because this letter was sent to a friend, I have also tried for a more familiar style. And now the letter!

The cardinal Bessarion sends his greetings to the venerable father, the master Bessarion of the Benedictine order, the company of Saint Justina, and abbot of San Severino in Naples.

1. I was in the middle of lamenting the misfortune of Christianity and the cruel rout at Negropont , when your letter was delivered. Reading what his Royal Majesty says about his favorable disposition toward maintaining the Christian faith, as you write, I breathed a sigh of relief for a little bit. I sincerely hope he does what he says. However, I’m afraid that if we are left to our own vices, we will suffer even worse and crueler things by delaying, waiting on each other, and casting the blame on other until we face the final onslaught. Wretched Christians! Blind Italians! Come on, Bessarion, let’s get out of this time,[1] God willing, or let’s fly away from this area to another. Let’s not just wait for the Turk to invade Italy. He has it in sight, believe me. He’s doing it. He’s striving after it. He desires it. How I wish I was a false prophet! But, as painful as it is, he will take Italy unless the Italians get their act together >sometime soon, unless they join together and bravely resist him with all their forces under one banner and put aside all their fictions and excuses that they claim are just along with all the inane banter, to be honest, and attack the enemies of the Cross with their forces.

2. Some time ago, Byzantium stood upon the edge of a knife.[2] None of the Italians sent aid.[3] They thought it was somebody else’s problem. They wrongly believed that it did not pose any danger to themselves. But there were those who realized after suffering so many misfortunes because Christian dominions were reduced to Turkish domination, such as the people of Trebizond, Sinope, Mitylene, the Peloponnese, Mysia, lower Pannonia, Epirus, and the best part of Illyria. And now even the dominion of Euboea[4] and the Karamanids. Why? Because they didn’t want to help Constantinople out with fifty thousand gold pieces and keep it safe. Because it was lost, all of these places have been lost, which are worth one hundred million of them, though the real number is infinite.

3. What do we care about the Greeks? What do we care about the Mysians, the Illyrians, or the Pannonians? Let them die, they say. What do they have to do with us? It’s fine with us if other people die. Thus, good man, can your liberty be saved. But don’t you see, I say, how when your forces are exhausted (all Christians are your forces) the more feeble and weaker you are, the stronger your enemy will be? And when you finally at some point fight them, it will be a poor person versus the richest, a weak person versus the strongest, an incapacitated person versus the most robust, so that you succumb to them and suffer disgusting slavery.

4. Chalcis in Euboea was besieged, and was taken by force, thrown into upheaval, and wasted by the sword and fire. A massive Turkish fleet wanders the whole Hellespont[5] freely. A Venetian naval force was defeated. It is fleeing, hiding, and giving way. The Turks are ravaging all of the islands there in a frenzy over their victory. They are plundering everything. They are wasting it. They are devastating it. What do they have to do with us? That’s the Venetians’ problem. That’s good what happened to them. It’d be advantageous if they have even worse things happen to them. The rest of us ought to live more peacefully and securely. If anybody is upset over these misfortunes, it’s a Venetian. If anybody favor’s the Venetians, he isn’t anywhere to be heard. Nobody cares at all about it. What disgusting human ignorance! What stupid enmities, which are eating away at their innards, although they seem to be doing that to someone else.

5. Come on, Bessarion, let’s both run away. You are closest to the danger and I am closest. In just a bit, the Turkish navy will be at Brindisi close to Naples and close to Rome. With the Venetians defeated, any land whatsoever can be dominated by sea. They can transport over into Apulia many thousands of soldiers, which they have lots of. They will make incursions into the Neapolitan and Roman countryside. Let’s get out of here, I say, before they seize you and me both. They hate my name and yours because of me, even though I have been responsible for no injury to them (not that I don’t want to, but I haven’t had been able to). I’ve said a lot against them. I’ve explained the danger they pose to us. I’ve foretold it, I’ve begged them, I’ve predicted it, but my words have fallen on deaf ears. It’s not like they lacked the desire to, since they are very much their enemies. They ought to make good on it. Come on, let’s go somewhere else.

6. Wow. Bessarion’s delirious. He’s going crazy. He’s a frigid, cowardly old man. Of course, Bessarion’s not going crazy, Bessarion. You are my witness. You were there with me at Bologna during Easter when that most unlucky messenger brought word of the fall of Byzantium. Everything that followed subsequently I predicted not because of any great intelligence of mine or art of divination, but because it all was obvious to anyone free from private cares and concerns. However, they thought I was crazy and given to flights of fancy. I was the butt of a good number of jokes at that point, as you know. But nevertheless, as painful as it was, everything I predicted happened. Let the people who hear these words beware so the same thing doesn’t happen in the future.

7. But Bessarion is not as cowardly, as some people would like to think. In spite of his lack of weapons, status as monk, and age, he could still exhibit and show greater sprit than some people would believe. Christian princes just have to want to do what they can, what they ought to. Bessarion himself would take the field without arms along with soldiers and well armed fighters for the Cross to seek out hostile forces, and he would take you along with him, Bessarion. But why are they all asleep and fighting among themselves, each wishing for the other’s destruction, laboring for it, and meditating it? Should one Bessarion with another, both physically infirm old men whose strength is broken, resist the Turk, whose power and fury are great, and who hungers for Christian blood?[6] That would be pointless, stupid, and useless.

8. Come on, let’s go somewhere else. Let’s let the princes of Italy take care of it. They have both abandoned us and don’t listen to us at all, even though it’s as if we’re screaming, predicting, and reporting the dangers in front of our eyes from a lookout post. Let’s let the Pope take care of his affairs and the defense of temporal affairs (The faith is after all something Christ, as its founder and propagator, promised he would preserve, which would not be lacking until the end of times). Let’s let the most serene king of Sicily care for and defend his realm. Their affair will be with a nearby, most powerful enemy. Let the people of Tuscany, Liguria, Milan, and Venice see how they are taken care of. There is no love between sheep and wolves. There is no law of friendship between wicked men and Christians. This is not an enemy who can be pacified with gifts, presents, or treaties. He desires to dominate, rule, and command. He desires to subjugate everyone to himself. The enemy will overrun every kingdom. He will easily come to Rome. Blast Italy, blast all you Christians, blast you blind men!

9. Come on, Bessarion, let’s seek out solitude and deserted places. We’ve seen enough of this world. You and I have little time left to live as I’m the older one and you’re the more handicapped. If there way any way whatsoever we could still be of service to the Christian commonwealth, we should obviously stay and keep working for it. But as for me, I have done no good in spite of all the years I’ve spent trying the best I could and my position as cardinal. Although you profit from the sanctity of the regulated life[7], you would profit more from the contemplative life with me in some deserted place, if Christians persist in their fighting. Come on, let’s only live for God and ourselves. He who satisfies the winged creatures of the sky and the beasts of the countryside with his clemency will feed us. It wouldn’t be hard or difficult for divine liberality to satisfy two men for the short time that we have left.

10. Godspeed and pray for the salvation of Christians and myself. Rome, August 5, 1470.

11. The Cardinal Bessarion, bishop of Nicaea with his own hand.[8]

[1] The point isn’t clear in this version of the letter, but in his revised official version this phrase was clarified to say “Accelerandum est, Bessario, ut vel ex hoc saeculo Deo volente migremus in aevum illud sempiternum… [Bessarion, let’s hurry up and either get out of this time, God willing, to that eternal time…]
[2] The Byzantine capital in Constantinople was seized in May 1453 as one of the initial conquests of the Turkish sultan Mehmed II.
[3] This is actually not true. The Venetians were sending aid, but the city fell before the aid could arrive.
[4] Euboea was the island Negropont was located on before it was seized by the Turks from the Venetians as described in section 1 as well as section 4.
[5] The straight between Europe and Asia near Gallipolli and what is believed to be the ancient site of Troy.
[6] The Latin has sanguinem Christianorum anhelanti, lit. ‘panting for Christian blood.’ The metaphor I believe is recalling how a dog pants for food.
[7] That is, living in a monastery and following the rule of the monastery.
[8] Bessarion signs signifying he wrote this himself and didn’t have some transcribe his words.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

John Tzetzes and Dream Interpretation

For this post, I decided to publish an old translation and commentary of mine, which I made while working on a project on the reception of the historian Dexippus in Byzantium. The letter is one of a series of letters that the twelfth century logophile John Tzetzes wrote to real and fictional characters. This one is to the emperor Manuel Komnenos (1154-1180A.D.) about his visions and prophecies for the emperor. In this letter, Tzetzes reports and interprets one of his dreams saying that the emperor must hire Scythian (Cuman) mercenaries to gain victory.

Tzetzes, John. Epistolae. ed. Theodore Pressel. Letter 52

To our mighty and holy emperor Manuel the pophyrogennetos
As your unworthy servant, I salute your holy and mighty Imperial Highness, mighty emperor, and I will become a herald of victorious good news for you using well sent dreams if you will accept a Scythian horse as an ally of your Majesty. I, your Majesty’s unworthy servant, am “neither a diviner, nor a reader of omens” nor am I a holy father, priest, or any other position of virtue, but I sometimes have dreams almost like divinations and prophecies whose endings I know. I don’t get my dreams when I’ve eaten a lot, gotten drunk, or when I’m deep in sleep, but when I haven’t touched anything and I remain sober hardly asleep. As many people are aware of our mode of life and condition, I will proceed to explain what happened to on this present bright and shining Sunday. [Saturday nights] I usually keep to myself and don’t go walking through the forums or the highways, I fell upon my bed to go to sleep, but like always I was not permitted to fall asleep because I was being attacked and under siege from a hoard of fleas outnumbering the immeasurable army of Xerxes. Trapped in the net of such an evil, I rolled around all night long more than Ixion’s wheel until daybreak, hardly shutting my eyes due to the pain and aggravation remaining almost still without sleep, when I had a vision I was walking to the Forum of Leomacellum where I met Basil, a goldsmith, reading a book near the workshop of perfumer named Victor Short, reading a book. At first I thought the book was none other than a cheap copy of the Holy Scripture, but since I heard him reading, I said, “Basil, is that not The Scythian Wars by Dexippus?”
He told me, “Yes”
And I said, “Who gave you it?”
He told me, “The keeper of the seal.”
There are two keepers of the seal, a father named Theodore and his son the deacon Constantine. I decided it must have been his son who gave him the book. I was thrice surprised that a person with so little education like Basil, who had only learned his rudimentary letters, would be reading such a book as well as by the fact that it appeared to me that he lives close to Victor’s workshop when he lives much further south, and I was also surprised that the book I wanted to read, the keeper of the seal had given to the gold smith to read. The book’s binding is coming undone and it has been shriveled up by fire. And yet, although it is in such a state, there is a good work inside and the pages and binding don’t really matter. So I decided that the goldsmith Basil was Your Imperial Majesty who lived farther to the south of Victor’s workshop than he seemed to. I also thought the fact that he would come into the workshop of Short Victor worked with gold and received the Scythian horse to his aid by means of the seal keeper and general Theodore or Constantine his elder, ordained son, who seal and bind what opposes, meant that with the aid God and the saints by those names as well as with Scythian horsemen as your ally paid with gold, you shall shortly and concisely win victory and its spoils. I wrote this as your unworthy servant, but also as someone who loves his emperor and his country.

Commentary to the Letter 

To the emperor Manuel: This is none other than Manuel I Komnenos (1154-1180) who had a penchant for prophecies and dream interpretation something Tzetzes could provide him. Manuel was so superstitious that at one point that if his dynasty followed the order of the letters of the Greek word for blood AIMA (Alexios, Ioannes (John), Manuel), it would rule forever. That was why he named his son and successor Alexios in opposition to the traditional Greek practice of naming a son after his grandfather.

A Scythian horse: This is the first of the many ways that Tzetzes uses the term. In this context, he is referring to his ancestry. Tzetzes was half Georgian on his mother’s side.

Neither…omens: This is quoted from Homer’s Odyssey line 203.

Ixion’s wheel: Ixion was a mythical figure who was expelled from Olympus by Zeus after trying to have sex with Hera. In punishment for this, he was bound to an ever turning wheel of fire.

Had a vision: The use of ἐδόκησα for ‘I had a vision’ is not a standard use of the word which usually would mean ‘I decided’, but the use makes sense when one considers that the noun δόκησις can mean ‘vision.’ Tzetzes simply has altered the verbs meaning based on a noun.

The forum of Leomacellum: This was the forum built by the emperor Leo Macellus ‘the Butcher’ (457-474A.D.), which was located on the northern side of the city.

The Scythian Wars: This was a work by Publius Herennius Dexippus written in the late third century A.D describing the wars of the Roman Emperors with the Goths, the Scythians in the classicizing language of Dexippus. The work does not survive in full.

To be your Imperial Majesty: From here on the interpretation of the dream becomes clear. Basil the goldsmith is the basileus (emperor) Manuel who will have to use gold to hire the Scythian horsemen i.e. foreign mercenaries so that in the near future he will come to Short Victor’s place which we have used instead of the Greek name Kontos Stratonikos meaning ‘short victory of the army.’ Theodore the keeper of the seal represents the martial saint, the general Theodore, while his elder son Constantine represents the saint and emperor Constantine the Great.   

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Proclamation of Theodore Komnenos Doukas

What follows below is the proclamation of the emperor Thedore Komnenos Doukas to the high rank of emperor of the Romans by a synod of bishops further in 1224. This event caused there now to be two major claimants for the imperial throne after 1204: John Vatatzes at Nikaia and now Theodore based out of Thessalonike. The document is very much of interest for how it makes the argument of what makes a person worthy of imperial rule after 1204. Driving out the Latins and restoring the Church is the main reason for these churchmen to see fit to proclaim Theodore emperor in addition to his royal background, though that would be more slim than the Grand Komnenoi of Trebizond.

It's an interesting letter! Enjoy!

Apokaukos, John. In Noctes Petropolitanae. Ed. Athanasios Papadopoulos-Kerameus. St. Petersburg, 1913. pp. 258-9

Translation by Scott Kennedy

[Action of the synod regarding the coronation of the despot Theodore as emperor]

The divine apostle when discussing belief in Christ says “with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” We the bishops over this western part, who occupy higher and lower seats, embrace this apostolic maxim, which we believe resulting in righteousness of the heart, that is to say the proclamation, crowning, and anointment of our mighty and holy lord emperor, lord [for kyr] Theodore Doukas, while we confess this with our mouths and write this with our hands. This is because he has become our deliverer behind God, our savior, and salvation in and of itself. He has borne many labors for the Christians here. He has perspired sweat many times on our behalf. It is appropriate to quote the poet [Homer] here, “passing sleepless nights and blood-filled days” he divvied them up with contests of war and conflicts for the extinction of the godless Latins who fought against us and furthermore the Scythians from Aimos. Common usage call him the “Yolk.” On account of this exertion, this sweat, this struggle, and he has restored all at once all western areas pertaining to us, which were held captive and destroyed, by his boundless sweat and excessive labor to their ancient Christian manner of life and state, and he has cleared them completely of the hard-to-number Latin and Scythian mobs, and he has won back many bishoprics of God and holy monasteries from Latin and Scythian pollution taking care to adorn the former refugee bishops of God with their own bishoprics and restoring the latter abbots again [to their monasteries], such that the former and latter again lead their own flocks of sheep. Better yet and and what is agreed upon by everyone is that he is the descendant of diverse emperors and justified in being elevated to the imperial honor as a fiery soldier and as a sleepless guardian. He has assumed the throne as recompense on agreement with bishops and judgment of priests, monks, soldiers, and the rest of all the Christians here. Thus he has assumed the rank of emperor and we confess that he alone is emperor and we crown him and anoint him and certify with our signatures below what is believed and confessed by us resulting in righteousness and salvation. In the month… [No month is given in the text]

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cyriacus of Ancona to Sparta

Below follows a short poem by Cyriacus of Ancona who was a visitor to Greece and Byzantium in the first half of the fifteenth century. Cyriacus was a famous Renaissance scholar of Ancient Greece and part of the effort to revive the Greek classics in Italy. It is very interesting to note in this poem, a Greek translation of the original, his passion for Sparta, which he had the opportunity of visiting while staying at the court of Byzantine despot of Morea, Constantine Palaiologos, in Mystras, which overlooks ancient Sparta from the hill of Myzithra, from which the city takes its name. 

Like many subsequent visitors to Greece fascinated by visions of Ancient Greece, Cyriacus's disdain is evident for the Byzantines, whom he views as responsible for the devolution of Sparta into the city of Mystras because of their 'cowardice and laziness.' Particularly disdainfully, Cyriacus distances himself from the Byzantines by stating that it was their generations who were responsible for the disappearance of all the great virtues and figures of Sparta.

However, what is particularly interesting about this poem is that it was translated into Greek at all because of its condescending tone towards the Greeks. It certainly warrants further investigation (I have not been able to consult Peloponnesiaka by Spyridon Lampros where the text is printed) into why this took place. Certainly, the 'he said' interjected into the poem would imply that this is a translation to report to the Greeks what Cyriacus was disdainfully saying about them after he had stayed with them.

Cyriacus of Ancona

Epigram to Sparta under Constantine Palaiologos
in plain Greek translation

O famous Laconian city of Sparta, glory of Greece, model for the entire world,  gymnasium and sacred precinct of arms and temperance, and mirror and source of all other divine virtue. If I examine your state, ethics, human law, with your other ethical virtues, and then I look at you, I suddenly cry out to Eurotes, to the chorus of your most glorious Artemis. Where is your good Lykourgos, where are the Dioskouroi, the twin gods Kastor and Polydeukes, where is Anaxandridas, Orthryadas, and Gylippos. O Eurysthenes and Leonidas, where are you staying? Where are you, Atreides and Pausanias, o most excellent ruler Lysander, o Ariston, Agesilaos and Xanthippos. Not Rome, Not Phillip, said, but time, as well as the unmanliness and laziness of your generations made the city change into Mysithra under Constantine.

[Update: I recently came across the original Italian poem Cyriacus wrote in D’Ancona, Cyriaco (2003) Later Travels. Ed. and trans. Edward W. Bognar. Cambridge, MA: I Tatti Renaissance Library. 332, which I reproduce with translation here.

Alma città laconica spartana,
gloria de Grecia, già del mondo exemplo
d'arme e de castità, gymnasio e templo
e d'ogni alma virtù specchio e fontana

se politia, costumi, e legge humana
con l'altre tue moral virtù contemplo
poi te remiro in Eurota, extemplo
exclamo al chor del'alma tua Diana

Dove è 'l tuo bon Lycurgo, ove Dioscori,
diri gemelli, Castore e Polluce?
Anaxandrida, Orythyada, e Gylippo,

Euriste e Leonida? Ove demori
Atride e Pausania? O chiaro duce
Lysandro, Aristo, Agesilao e Xanthippo?

Non Roma, non Phillipo
dixe: "Ma è 'l saecol vil vostro. Adconfino
la volta in Mysithra sub Constantino

Translated that is:

Great Laconian city of Sparta,
glory of Greece, once example to the world
of arms, chastity, gymnasium and temple
and mirror and font of every noble virtue

If I contemplate your constitution, customs, and human law
with your other moral virtues
then I marvel again at Eurotas; suddenly
I exclaim to the chorus of your great Diana

Where is your good Lycurgus, where are the Dioscori,
the dire twins, Castor and Pollux?
Anaxandrides, Orythyades, and Gylippus,

Eurystus and Leonidas? Where do you dwell
son of Atreas and Pausanias? O famous leader
Lysander, Aristo, Agesilaus, and Xanthippus?

Not Rome, not Phillip
said, "This is your wretched age. I assign
the turn to Mistra under Constantine.]

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Katakalon Kekaumenos: Admonition to the Emperor

[This post has variously been delayed by a mix of factors such as grad school applications, the computer-restarting horrors of Microsoft update, and the Christmas season. However, in spite of these travails, here is presented a most interesting text in the genre of kingly instruction literature. This work by the Byzantine general and official Katakalon Kekaumenos seeks to spell out for Byzantine emperor of the eleventh century how he should rule over his subjects and administer the empire. While unfortunately time precludes me from examining the text in greater detail than this preliminary summary, I would hope to return to this text in a future post on the relationship between the Byzantine fiscal system and imperial military policy discussed to some extent in the text. Until then...]


by Katakalon Kekaumenos

When some say that the emperor is not below the law, but is the law, I agree with them. However, As long as he acts and makes laws justly, we obey him. Were he to say, "Drink poison", then absolutely don't do it. If he says, "Get in the sea and swim across it", you do not have to do this. Recognize that the emperor is a man who is below divine law. On this account, we are creating this writing for our pious and Christ-loving emperors who come after.

Holy lord, God has raised you on high to the imperial throne and made you by his favor, as it is said, into God on earth to do and act as he wills. Hence, let your deeds and doings be filled with wisdom and truth and let righteousness be in your heat. Look and act eye to eye with everyone, those in office and those otherwise, and do not abuse some freely and show favor to some contrary to what is right, but treat everyone equally. Let he who errs be compensated measurably for his errors even if you sympathize with him and forgive him his failing as it befits God and an emperor. Don't get angry at someone who has done you no wrong, but rather you should be glad, since he who does not wrong you is better above all than he who has. And if you show favor to he who has wronged you...and you should do good to bad and bad to good.

Don't pay attention to false accusers. I'm not saying you should completely ignore them; there are some tattle-tales who do tell the truth. Put both's story to the test and send away the false accuser empty-handed, but not in an insulting manner, while you do good for the person telling the truth. If you hear people accuse an official of yours of plotting against you, don't let evil get the better of your soul and try to kill him, but conduct a thorough investigation first secretly, then if you find there's some truth to it put him on trial openly, freely...hence you'll make an enemy out of him and many other people on account of him.

Let your benefactions be accounted and let the people you deemed worthy attend to them...benefactions by the emperors to the people not worthy. If you want to help out mimes and the people they call ‘politicians’, help them out with a few coins and not with honors, since by definition an honor goes to someone honorable. If you honor a mime as protospatharios or a dishonorable man, likewise if you honor your notary or secretary as patrician, then your soldier who wants to spill his blood for you will think the honor is worthless. I have seen much of this. I have seen judges worthy of ridicule prosper while the wisest and the best of men are held in contempt by the emperors including even good soldiers for the gain of liars and fortune-hunters to my utter despair unable to bear it in my heart.

Take care especially of your soldiers. Do not reduce their pay, since when a soldier receives this from you, he is selling his blood. Give them honors, but not all of them, just those who have distinguished themselves. Foreign forces in imperial service and Roman reserves [Ῥωμαῖοι οἱ φυλάσσοντες] should not be denied, but should receive their grain each month without hassle as well as their fodder and pay for upkeep [τὰς ρόγας αὐτῶν σώας]. Honor them and they will not conspire against you. If they are denied these items, they will naturally want to leave for where they can get them and become your implacable enemies, and from that day forward they will not come back over to your side remembering that nothing good was done to them by you, rather that they were taken advantage of and will separate people favorable to you from you. And then without any aid, you will truly regret it.

For you foreign forces, if they not are not of the royal line of their country, do not elevate them to high honors or entrust them with high offices, since you will so be diminishing your own importance and that of your Roman officials. When you honor a foreign soldier from Anglia[1] as primikerios or general, then what war office do you have to give to a Roman soldier? You'll just succeed in making him your enemy. Besides that, people in his own country, hearing the guy went to your country and got such an honor and command, will all laugh and say, "Well, what do we have here? That good-for-nothing who went to Romania and got such an honor. It seems people in Romania aren't very capable and because of it our guy got promoted. If the Romans were energetic, they would not have raised him up to such an honor. Please don't say, your Majesty, that, "I gave him these benefits so that other people will notice and come here. This is not a noble aim. If you want to bring them over, then do so by giving them things such as food and clothing. It is very much in Romania's best interests, my Lord, that you don't give foreign soldiers high offices, since if they'll serve you for food and clothes, then they’ll serve you faithfully and wholeheartedly looking to your hands to receive a couple of coins and bread. Yet if you honor a foreign soldier beyond the rank of spatharokanditatos, then they'll become contemptuous and won't serve you properly.

Ask and learn, your Lordship, how [foreigners] came in many circumstance to prior emperors such as the Lord Basil the Porphyrogennetos (976-1025), his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, and even further back. And why am I even talking about emperors back then. Neither the lord Romanos Argyropolos (1025-1034), nor any of those blessed emperors appointed a Frank or Varangian to the honor of patrician or would even make him a consul or a commander of soldiers and would just barely make them a spatharios. Yet all of them worked for food and clothes while Romans received high offices and did great deeds with Romania at the cutting edge of it all.

I cite for your Imperial Majesty the example of my grandfather Nikoulitzes, who after many labors for Romania was honored as duke of Hellas for his loyalty by the emperors. He was given this authority non-transferrable by chrysobull and likewise the domesticate of the excubites of Greece. Yet then Peter the nephew of the king of Francia came to the late emperor lord Basil in the fourth year of his reign. He honored him as spatharios appointing him domestic of the excubites of Greece.[2] He wrote to my grandfather, "We are writing to inform you that Peter the legitimate nephew of the king of Germania has entered the service of the empire and, so he says, he plans to be and die a servant of my Imperial Majesty. Having received this pledge, my Imperial Majesty made him spatharios in the chrysotriklinos.[3] As he is foreign, my Imperial Majesty did not appoint him commander so that we should not make useless the Romans, but appointed him domestic of the excubites beneath you. My Imperial Majesty knowing that this is yours by chrysobull of my late father, instead of command over the excubites of Greece, is giving you command over the Vlachs.” Observe the meticulous care that porphyrogennetos had of the foreigner, even though he was still newly emperor then.

I cite for you another example, my holy lord. Senachyreim, as you know, was the descendant of ancient kings who wanted to give his lands to the emperor lord Basil the porphrogennetos and become his servant. The emperor receiving his show of affection honored him as magister and nothing more, even when he was the descendant of ancient kings and a king himself.

I have one last example for your Imperial Majesty before I stop in this vein. Harald was the son of the king of the Varangia, who had a brother Olaf, who after the death of their father took their father’s throne appointing his brother Harald his successor to the throne.[4] As he was young, he wanted to come and pay homage to the emperor Michael the Paphlagonian (1034-1041), which he did coming in sight of the Roman state. He brought with him also a group of five hundred noble men. When he came, the emperor received as it was possible and sent him with his people to Sicily as the Roman army was there waging war on the island. He performed great deeds there. With Sicily subdued, he returned with his people to the emperor who honored him as manglavittes. After that, it so happened then that Delianos revolted in Bulgaria. And so he accompanied the emperor along with his group and did deeds worthy of his noble birth and nobility. The emperor having subdued Bulgaria returned to the capital. I myself was there then fighting for the emperor according to my ability. When we reached Mesinopolis, the emperor rewarded him for all of his deeds with the rank of spatharokandidatos. After the death of the emperor Michael and his nephew and successor, Harald asked permission to return to his land under the emperor Monomachos (1042-1055), but was not granted it, with his road home being narrow. Nevertheless, he secretly returned home and ruled over his land in the place of his brother Olaf. And he did not mutter about how he was honored manglavittes and spatharokandidatos, but rather as king maintained loyalty and love for the Romans.

And do not overburden your city, the countries under you, or the army, but always be a father to everyone and they will serve you conscientiously. Some time ago, a mischievous man gave different advice to the porphyrogennetos Lord Basil desiring for Basil’s destruction. He said, “Make poor your people.” Do that, and they will hate you and especially rise up against you. Don’t treat horses like that and don’t treat like that sentient people who consider and think about whether they are treated well or badly. Your Majesty must do and act according to your fear of god. And as for your soldiers, do not deny them their pay or likewise the senators and citizens, and each of them according to their duty, as it was first noted, will serve you and will not mutter. And as for the countries under your rule, do not put upon them daily increases, appearances, and foreign and new fangled notions, and they will not revolt from you, but they will serve you whole-heartedly if they provide according to their ability yearly taxes to the treasury.

And as for the foreign countries beneath you, do not weigh them down. Command your generals to practice moderation and piety and to not act rashly or bear a grudge against anyone, but to protect judges so that they can judge with fear of God and justice. And what is the sight which we see now? It is the drawing of soldiers in battle lines more than necessary not only in demanded debts, but also in pointless marches.

Command the familiars of Your Majesty not to anyone, nor to put in power bad men and enemies of the truth, but rather if someone comes to them who has been wronged, to put him in power. And give them permission to remind Your Imperial Majesty of the people who are wronged. Your relatives should fear you and not have the go-ahead to wrong people.

I cite for you, my lord, the disaster that happened in the Paphlagonian's reign. This blessed emperor did not have noteworthy parents, but and obscure and utterly base parents, though he still had great virtues. Some without learning say that he was well-born and from a great race, but really he was ill-born and base. I say that all men are children of one man, Adam, whether they are emperors, nobles, or beggars. I have seen those of great descent fall on deceit, divination, and magic, and I say that it is them who are ill-born. For a sentient man can, if he wants, become divine by the grace of God. [5] The emperor lord Michael, as it was said, had great virtues though he had legitimate kinsmen who were many and poor, who were looked after by the orphanotrophos. He was the emperor's brother who was in charge of the palace. He wanted to enrich them and gave them permission to steal from other people, of which the emperor knew nothing. Message-bearers and imperial men sent in his service wherever they met a man on horseback whether in a hotel or on an abandoned road, they threw him from his horse or mule, took possession of it, and departed. On this account, this wonderful and conspicuous emperor became hated for the most part because of the injustices of his kinsmen and everyone was ready to be rid of his family. Not much later he died. Having died in peace and repentance, his nephew became emperor only to be risen up against by the entire city and those from outside found within using as a pretext against him his exiling of the empress. He and entire family were expelled in a single day. In his place, Monomachos became emperor who wasted and destroyed the Roman Empire.

Your Majesty should remember this. The chief man of your Imperial Majesty who handles everything should remind you of every subject and things should come to your attention, of which you have knowledge. If you follow my meager and humble words, you end your life in utter peace. If you give yourself up to frivolous pleasures, then many things in life shall impede you.

Indeed, the emperor is the pattern and model of conduct for everyone who look to him and imitate his conduct. If it is good, they are eager to adopt and imitate it. If it is bad and condemnable, they do likewise. Hold and keep the four virtues: courage, justice, restraint, and prudence. There is prudence for the good and prudence for the bad. It is the same with courage, restraint, and justice where one would not find action for the bad. Possessing these virtues, as it was said, raises you up from earth to the heavens with your praise being great and the Lord bestowing on you many days as justice and truth flowers both on your face and in your heart.

Let many products be deposited at your disposal for you, the imperial court, and your capital. Let arrows, many arms, spears, breast plates, helmets, shields, swords, and anything else needed for war be at your side. Let siege machinery and caltrops be at your side. You do not know what bad people want. I have seen something of the following sort and life altered.

I have seen the former emperor Michael who was Caesar (1041-1042) being the mighty emperor with the sun's rising and at the third hour of the day have become piteous, alone, and blind. You should not become arrogant, my Lord, of the glory of your Imperial Majesty, but rather take pride in your power and say, “What is able to bring me down from the height of my glory? A single change of fate says the greatly wise theologian Gregory and a change of many matters. Let your hope be in God and security. As God made us capable of thinking, we must keep ourselves in his favor looking ahead and after our salvation trusting in him.

You should not accept flattery from anyone, but rather keep friends who embarrass you. I cite for your Imperial Majesty this example. Augustus, Caesar's son, was arrogant, cruel, and immoral with contempt-worthy and evil purposes yet with natural intelligence, he said, “I’m no good without an instructor.” And so he sent for in Alexandria Athenodoros a poor man lacking in much honor, but prudent and very wise nonetheless as attested to by some of those in the palace who said he was very prudent and wise. To him, Augustus said, "Do you know why Athenodoros I have brought you here with such honor?" He replied that he did not know. Caesar said, "I have habits that go against my office, so having heard that you are a good man in counsel and action, I wanted to have you as my friend and counselor so that when you see me doing things and saying things that are not good and are contemptible in nature you might tell me I am wrong in private. And if I do not accept your correction, openly do it to me." Athenodoros replied, “Okay, but as for you, my lord, do not turn you face away when you are rebuked or belittled me, and I will be a doctor for you in this way." He did not cease to tell him what he was doing wrong every day until finally he made him virtuous. When he asked permission to return to him homeland, he was not given permission by Caesar, who said to him, "My dearest friend, I am yet incomplete.”

Then he wanted to meet Abgar, the king of Edessa, who was very prudent, wise, and decorated with all manner of virtues. When he met him, he had an interview with him in which he said, “I place myself in your hands and you will take the place of Athenodoros (Athenodoros had previously died).” And he held Abgar in much honor not only as a friend, but also as a father being corrected by him for many years. Thus was how Augustus acted and was corrected by his friends and has been celebrated from then on until now as good.

You should have a man like this who you give permission to tell you what you are saying and doing wrong every day. You should not say that, "I am wise and I know everything." To this I say to you, "There are many things you know, but greater still is what you don't know. God alone does not forget, while man, whoever he is, is fallible. As the angel said to Zosimas, "No man is everything."

As for your army, you should not disband it and make it poor, since you are really only making yourself poor and weaken yourself, since the army is the glory of the emperor and the strength of the palace. Indeed, without an army, your public servants do not stand by you, but anyone will oppose you.

Endeavor likewise to always keep the fleet in top shape and without any shortages as the fleet is the glory of Romania. Endeavor likewise to have commanders of the fleet who are above any bribery and personal gain. If the commanders of the fleet are corrupt and bribeable, then listen to what they do. At first, they allow expeditions to go tax-free receiving from them money, which is not as much as they wanted to give for the threat of the fleet, but in double the quantity, and a war ship becomes deficient.

Just as an eagle flying in the air, if it is missing a wing, does not fly well, so the long boats, if they are missing oars, do not sail well. Naval commanders also do further damage when accept gifts from soldiers. By letting them go unarmed, the soldiers henceforth turn in flight when confronted by the enemy. Even then ‘confronted’ might be too much. They don’t even come into their sight before they flee bring dishonor to the Romans.

When the long boats head for the islands on the pretext of patrolling, they do nothing else except collect grain, barley, pulses, cheese, wine, meat, olives, much money, and whatever else the islands have from the Cyclades and both continents. They do likewise with Cyprus and Crete. You must, my lord, be knowledgeable about all of this and keep your fleet in good shape and free from deficiency not muttering about anything whatsoever. So much for your sailors and soldiers.

Follow this same injunction for the officials of the fleet and let them be without deficiencies in the things they need. And if they are corrupt, teach them a lesson through flogging, tonsure, and monetary punishment. Naval officials after having stayed in the fleet for many years are in the habit of possessing laziness, rest, and luxury, in which total complacency emerges. You must keep the fleet on its toes and if you see them carrying on and acting as such, you must expel them from the fleet and put others in charge in their place.

If I might say something to your pious Majesty, there is something which if you do it, will not be harmful, but will bring you much security. If you see naval officials disposed as it was said above, do not replace them in their rank with other naval officials, but find old counts and droungarioi, who you ought to expel from the ranks because of their lack of activity or whom you have already expelled, and make them commanders of the fleet. Address them as such, “You know that you are old, inactive, and fit to rest in your homes, but My Imperial Majesty realizing that, returning home you would be deprived of necessities for which you have labored, cannot tolerate to deprive you of them. For this reason, I have appointed you commanders of the fleet so that you will be self sufficient and not be neglected, but dedicated so to speak you will be able to win victories God willing. Recognize that if you do this, you will not fall short of your aim, but your fleet will be in perfect condition. Also keep archers on board your long boats. Let the droungarios and the protonotarios of the fleet be pious, active, capable, wise, fearing God and your Imperial Majesty. They should pay attention to and search for with precision the slightest thing which is done in the fleet. If the fleet falls into nothingness, you will fall.

I am aware, Your Majesty, that it is human nature to be inclined to laziness. This tendency above is made even more harmful should the emperor not visit the lands subject to him in the east and west, but instead remain bound as though in prison in Constantinople. Indeed if someone restrained you to one city, you would not put up with it and depart, but it is you have done this to yourself. What need be said? Go, visit the lands under you and go to the themes and see the wrongs that the poor suffer and what the agents sent by you have done. And if the poor have been wronged, fix it. Then the Roman themes and the lands under you will know that they have a emperor and lord who is looking after them and you will make known in every theme, city, and land your might and how things are to be done, what is to be punished, and what must be done, and there will be no insurrections, no revolts against you. Your lands will be in peace.

I know that those you serve you will advise you that this is not good because of the expense and that you will weary the lands and themes by passing through them with your retinue and the imperial bodyguard. They will say as well that if you leave Byzantium, another will become emperor instead of you. Yet, I laugh at this. The person left by you in the palace in charge of the subject nations and the Romans, will be utterly energetic and capable of doing in all haste what should be done. What other proof do I have for you? The emperors and the Augusti of the Romans had the same situation I say that you have ruling not only in Rome, but also those in Byzantium such as Constantine the Great (306-337), his son Constantius (337-361), Julian (361-363), Jovian (363-364), and Theodosius (379-395). They were always in the east and west spending little time in Byzantium. In those times are of the lands were quiet including all of Europe, Libya, and the most beautiful part of Asia until the Euphrates and the lands of the Adiabeni, Armenia, Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, Egypt, and the great and much talked about land of Babylon were all subject to the Romans. But when men were overcome by foolishness, which came as though a disease, then nothing good happened to the Roman Empire.

[1] That is to say, England. These troops were Anglo-Saxons who left England following the Norman Conquest.

[2] The title of domestic of excubites is something of a mystery as to how this military function worked. For discussion of the title and its various holders, see Hans Joachim Kühn, Die byzantinishe Armee im 10. und 11. Jahrhundert, (Vienna, 1991), 93-104.

[3] A major hall used for audiences, etc.

[4] The Harald referred to here is Harald III of Norway (1047-1066).

[5] The text here may require some emendation. The word used for what a man might become is θεός ‘god.’ While it is possible for that to be the meaning in Kekaumenos (it is reminiscent of the Modern Greek expression θεός είναι), I prefer an emendation here to θείος, which fits nicely in opposition to the unsacred acts being perpetrated by nobles.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

John of Epiphania's History

[Note: I am republishing here an old translation and introduction that I finished a few years ago to a piece on the historian John of Epiphania, whose history is not very well known and for that purpose hopefully this extract will help give his words life.]


Very few details have been preserved for us of the writer of this history. Our only sources for information about him and his life derive from a short reference to him in the Ecclesiastical History of Evagrius Book V Chapter 42 and what few details he provides about himself in his short preface. All that we can say is that he was somehow related to Evagrius with whom he shared the similar titles of σχολαστικοῦ and ἀπὸ ὑπάρχων/ἀπὸ ἐπάρχων, and that he also served as a legal advisor to Gregory, the Patriarch of Antioch, therefore being present at his meeting and trips involving the Persians from which he learned what he wrote.

Of John’s history, only a fragment remains containing the first five chapters in the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1056 of which it occupies folio 94 until the manuscript breaks off six folios later from there being too badly mutilated. What happened to the rest of the work is a mystery.

John’s history seems to have found a small audience in its time. Written perhaps a year or two after the restoration of Chosroës in 591 A.D., it was made use of in certainty by Evagrius Scholasticus before he finished in 593/4 A.D. and Theophylact Simocatta, whose work the Whitby’s date to the reign of Heraclius (1). After this century, subsequent writers seem to have made little use or none of it. Theophanes the Confessor writing in the early ninth century apparently makes use only of Theophylact Simocatta and Evagrius for the information he reproduces concerning the submission of Chosroës. In addition, Photius in his great Library makes no mention of John though he does of Evagrius with whom (perhaps) he confused John because of their similar titles, but this seems quite unlikely given that subsequently the great compiler of histories, John Zonaras, in the mid-twelfth century makes no use of him, but of almost exclusively Simocatta in his account (2). Furthermore, the fact that his history was apparently unknown to the extractors of the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus (945-959 A.D.) who extracted many other works of the sixth century now lost also shows the small breadth of his readership and almost suggests that he may never have published the work, of which we possess this small fragment.

However, because his work was made use of by Evagrius and Theophylact, we can at least construct and suggest what his history must of looked like. We have the beginning and that allows us to see where to begin reconstructing. Evagrius V.6-14 obviously derive from John with a few of Evagrius’s own digressions into the ancient history and characteristics of some of the places such as that of Nisibis V.9 and Apamea V.10 as well as some ecclesiastical events and the madness of Justin II, which he considerably elaborates V.11. From his text we can also see what was present in the lacunae of our text. However, after this point where the manuscript breaks off, what came next is open to conjecture, but probably Evagrius follows it in summary continuing to add his own comments in chapters 14-15 and 19-22. As Evagrius ends his fifth book with the accession of Maurice, we can suppose that there too was where John ended his first part before proceeding on to what he knew.

Of Book VI by Evagrius, Chapters 1-16 probably follow John’s work more or less. The speech given by Gregory to the soldiers in 12 is probably taken word for word from John’s history and therefore should be viewed as an example of John’s style of writing speeches, which becomes useful for dealing with Theophylact Simocatta's long and tiresome discourses. Whatever the case, the letters provided in Simocatta as having passed between Varam and Chosroës almost certainly derive from John who would have had a chance to get his hands on the originals while in Persia. The subsequent information on the cross and the inscription on it as it appears in both histories also derives from John. Finally, in all probability we can say that John’s history ended where his Evagrius’s did with the death of Gregory while returning from Persia, since this would seem the ideal place.

The text below was translated from K. Muller, Fragmenta historicorum graecorum, vol. 4 (1851), p.272f.


1. Michael and Mary Whitby (trans.), The History of Theophylact Simocatta: An English Translation with Introduction, Oxford University Press, (1986) pg. xiii

2. This is evidenced by the language and the rewording of Theophylact v.15.5-8 in Zonaras pg. 189

History of the submission of Chosroes the Younger to Maurice the Roman Emperor
By John of Epiphania the Scholastic and
the Expraefectus

1. What the Romans and Medians suffered and did making war on each other during the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian has been described by Agathias of Myrina, a preeminent man amongst the rhetors of Byzantium recording after Procopius of Caesarea the events happening involving the barbarians. As it is of great importance that which we have witnessed (the king of the Persians taking flight from his own land after having been deposed and submitting to the Roman State in order to gain the aid of the emperor Maurice in restoring himself to the throne), I have embarked upon this work not given confidence to do so by any particular eloquence on my part, nor by any previous study, but so that such a thing as this should not be left unspoken for posterity, since if the greatest deeds are not preserved in words and committed to memory, they will be extinguished by the darkness of silence. For words provide life as things wear away. Having been involved in some of these events and spoken with Chosroës and other particularly mentionable Medians (I was previously an advisor to Gregory, the archpriest of the city of Antioch, accompanying him frequently to meetings with them, and after the end of the war, I went with Gregory to Persia when he was promoting concord amongst them), I do not believe it is misplaced for me to narrate these events, as I am able to, to those who do not know about them. As it is necessary to know precisely about important previous events to learn about what follows, I feel I must make mention of the events that took place prior to me in brief including the revolt that took place against Hormisdas the father of Chosroes before proceeding to the rest of the work reminding those who know about these things of the actions taken and giving a starting point for those who have not heard anything at all of them to learn clearly before proceeding to subsequent events.

2. When Justinian after reigning for thirty nine years ended his life, he died in peace with other nations including the Medians and was succeeded by his nephew Justin the younger under whom the peace treaties Justinian had made with Chosroes, the Persian king, for a period of fifty five years after having waged war on another, which were in their twentieth year during the seventh year of Justin’s reign and would reach their end in the ninth year of the emperor Maurice, broke down. The causes of their strife with one another were as such: the Romans were displeased that the Persians intending to Homerites (an Indic race allied and subject to them), with them having no choice, had made an attack on them in the present period of peace. Besides this, as the Turks had sent envoys to the Romans to which the emperor Justin had responded sending Zemarchus, a member of the Senate, back with them again, the Persians planned to bribe the Alans through whose lands they were about to make their passage to become an obstruct Zemarchus and the Romans and Turks with him. The Medians had a similar way about it finding causes for war with the Romans as the Armenians, their vassals, had risen up in revolt, killed their ruler by the name of Surenes, and gone over to the Roman Empire with the Romans welcoming them and offering them an alliance. Their contentiousness increased even further (for whoever wishes to learn the most disgraceful reason, though true) when Justin did not deem to pay the Medians the five hundred pounds of gold each year previously agreed to under the peace treaties and let the Roman State remain forever a tributary of the Persians.

3. As the time drew near for the previously agreed sums of money to be taken to Chosroes (it had been agreed to pay the amount for ten years time), nothing was done as had been agreed and instead Justin, the Roman emperor, sent in haste to the east his general Marcian, who was amongst the patricians of the Senate and was related to him being not unskilled in war and exceptionally brave. Crossing the Euphrates River, Marcian came to Osroëne already when the summer was underway, and with the barbarians having no forewarning of war he sent a contingent of three thousand men to Arzanene entrusting Theodore and Sergius, who were descended from the family of Rabdios, with command of them as well as sending Juventinus, the commander of the legions in Chalkis. They invaded suddenly ravaging Persian land and returned carrying off a considerable amount of plunder in all haste. After the winter season, Marcian gathered together his forces again and set out from Dara meeting with the barbarians in front of the city of Nisibis led by Varaman, who was in command of the companies stationed them. A fierce battle followed in which the Romans turned to the barbarians to flight vigorously near the Persian place called Sarmathon bringing down many of them then making an attempt at the fortress of Thebython where they spent ten days. Unable to seize it, they returned to the city of Dara while it was still spring and again invaded enemy land planning to besiege Nisibis with the approval of the emperor Justin.

4. While they were encamped near the city, King Chosroes set out from Babylon with an army of Medians crossing the Tigris River and passing over empty land, as the Roman had not heard of the king‘s movements, and came upon the Persian fortress of Amvaron (it is five days distant from the city of Circesion), where he dispatched Adaarman, as the general was called, to cross the Euphrates River there and plunder Roman territory with thousands of his own Medians and nomadic barbarians. At the same time, he urged Avorras on to the Romans besieging Nisibis. When Adaarman reached the city of Circesion, he crossed the Euphrates and began to forage Roman lands without any restraint. For due to the previous peace and quiet that they had enjoyed during the reign of Justinian, their war time preparation had receded and their virility completely vanished. As no one dared to come to blows with the barbarians, Adaarman was able to come as far as the city of Antioch ravaging the sites and fields near the city and then advancing on Coele Syria. He made camp not far from the great city of Apamea, to whose citizens’ embassies he promised to enter the city and leave it unharmed, but then actually entering it where the Persians seized their possessions, enslaved its inhabitants, and put the entire city to the flame then returning in all haste to their own land. As a result of these actions, the emperor Justin dispatched Acacius (the Romans are accustomed to add the name of Archelaus) removing Marcian, who was still besieging Nisibis, from office because he had doubts about his loyalty as the city had not yet been taken control of.

5. As the Romans were retreating, they came to a fortress on the border named Mardes by its inhabitants where King Chosroës suddenly...laying siege himself...and the water of the city...constructing great (the word is unclear -????) by the city wall and making use of projectile launching machines against it, and because no external aid came for its inhabitants, he captured the city with the Medians violently mounting onto the city walls. He plundered the entire city and enslaved its inhabitants including even John the son of Timostratus, a man of surpassing strength and honor who had been entrusted with the rule and administration of the city, and then left behind a considerable garrison and returned home while the Romans were still holed up at the fortress of Mardes with Magnus in command, who also was in charge of imperial monies. Not many days later, Justin came down suddenly with a physical ailment and fearing for it all made a truce in that year with the Persians. As his ailment grew worse, he decided to announce his adoption of Tiberius, who commanded his bodyguards (Romans call this person the comes excubitorum) and proclaimed him Caesar handing over to him the cares of government. Of all of Justin's actions, this one, besides providing a good and indeed salutary period of rule, proved responsible for a great number of fair things for Roman affairs. When it happened that Tiberius took charge in these present circumstances, lest some terrible harm save and the starting points... seemed...Theodore who was in charge of the affairs of Armenia holding many other not ignoble offices being very learned and quite well able to see to what was necessary, so he sent off the barbarians revealing the things being done about him according to his arrangement and charging Chosroes to make a truce. A short while later, he sent off in haste to the east likewise Justinian, the son of Germanus, who numbered amongst the patricians of the Senate, entrusting him with charge of the war as he had been a man raised in the ways of war coming to maturity in it being subject neither to the rashness of youth, nor the frailty of age. Justinian came in all haste to the east taking care for the good conduct and order of his soldiers. Tiberius the Caesar then sent an army not small in number off in speed taking great care for its preparation for war by allocating a boundless sum of money and raising a mighty and war-like number from the nations taking great care for the coming war. As the duration of the truce was nearing its end, the Persians gathered themselves near Dara and came upon the city of Constantina, which Dara is four hundred and ninety stades to the west of (1).


1. Unfortunately, most of this passage must derive from the History of Theophanes of Byzantium who covered the reigns of Justin and Tiberius, which is summarized by Photius in Codex 64 and also the fragments preserved of Menander the Guardsmen 14-20 who covered the same period of time.

Michael Psellos between War and Cruelty: Two Letters to Andronikos Doukas and Romanos Diogenes

Presented below are two letters from the Byzantine intellectual, historian, and politician Michael Psellos, which offer very different, but interesting perspectives on the capture and subsequent blinding of Romanos Diogenes as well as the fickle nature of Byzantine court rhetoric. Much to Psellos' civilian dislike, the militarily inclined emperor Romanos Diogenes (1068-1071) had succeeded to the throne following the Turkish inroads and disasters of 1067. While Romanos had reigned, Psellos had written beautiful encomia almost as a form of lip service lavishing praise upon Romanos as the shining sun ( note 19). However, as these two documents show, his opinions quickly changed with the fall of Romanos, whom he addresses as a serpent in document 1.

The second letter is most interesting because it was sent by Psellos to Romanos after he was blinded by what all accounts was a most barbaric manner, perhaps even at Psellos's order (Vryonis 13). It practically half-mocks, half-praises Romanos calling him the most unfortunate man out there, but reveres him almost as a martyr of Psellos's own actions, who though he will no longer see the light as the sun will one day see the divine light. It is a uniquely bizarre message from the victor to the defeated, though perhaps we may seem some of the spirit behind in in Psellos's twisted subordination of religion to the needs of the state in his Chronographia (Kaldellis 47).

Particularly worth noting in connection with the Chronographia and this letter is the amount of effort which Psellos puts forward to exculpate his pupil and Romanos's successor Michael Doukas from involvement in the crime. In the letter below, he practically begs to be believed by Romanos. He writes, "He was distressed on hearing it wailing, grieving, beating his breast in anguish, weeping torrents of tears, wishing to die many times, and utterly agape. Put faith in what I write. It is not false, nor for the sake of favor, but true and far-shining with light. He cannot be comforted and is giving up on this life." From a cynical perspective, it almost seems that Psellos was attempting push blame for the act away from Michael, though interestingly in our records of the time, there is no scapegoat implicated in the act or reprimands as far as we know. Key figures in Michael's government continued to hold power such as Psellos or the Caesar John Doukas who is implicated by Pseudo-Skylitzes (Vryonis 13). While it is possible given the emperor Michael's weak character that he was innocent of the crime and refused to reprimand his powerful ministers, there remains the question of who ordered the blinding of Romanos Diogenes.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 1999. The Argument of Psellos' Chronographia. Leiden: Brill

Vryonis, Speros. 2003. "Michael Psellus, Michael Attaleiates: The Blinding of Romanus IV at Kotyaion (29 June 1072) and His Death on Proti (4 August 1072)." in Porphyrogenita: Essays in honour of Julian Chrystostomides. Burlington: Ashgate.


145. To Andronikos Doukas while on campaign against Romanus Diogenes (transl. from Bibliotheca graeca Medii Aevi. ed. Constantine Sathas. Venice, 1876. v pp. 392-4)

I am not amazed that you have conquered and taken hold of the enemy by your superiority, most noble and martial man, my dearest friend, because of your so great honor, strategic sagacity, and your cunning in war. I praise you for your marches, advances, stratagems, devices, thoughtful invention, and embellished change of scale. I amazed with you for your struggles, presence in the battle, phalanx, the appearances before the routs, the division on both in columns…and of the opponent, either crosswise or on each sides, one of them in columns, the other in the cycles that men cunning in this name them. For it does not thus happen either with great fear or from the first vestibule, resplendent with victory and victories you may be received again by us, but from martial plans, from tactical movements, from lines and divisions, and noble fights and such things as the head of a general is crowned by.

For some time, we all were midair divided in our opinions on both sides and very joyous for any news from where you were. The greater part of us and more divine voices were pleased, thrice-beloved and most magnificent man, to hear from your messengers of your rout and victory. It has thus been written in the above books, or rather from above you have received these noble deeds as gifts.

You, although the head of the serpent has not yet removed, have announced this good news. It has already been lost on us, since the full length of the serpent has not yet been taken care of, while the arch-evil head has not yet been broken, though may the beast may be struck down by your lightning bolt and this, not deep below nor unseen, but high up and manifest as you come upon the den, strip down the remaining parts, and inflict a terrible poison throughout it for the righteous.

You, with hands of gold, arms of steel, and a chest of bronze, when you have completed it, please send news. For I am already devising words of praise for you for when there is final victory and I shall place an uncontaminated laurel gathered from Attic meadows upon your head.

However, there is still the basilisk upon my mind! Of whom do I speak? The most wily Chatatourios (Romanos Diogenes' commander who had eluded capture unlike the emperor), who please do not let escape and slip through your hands. Let the beast be captured at once by your hands, since he is not a part of length of the serpent, but at the same level with the head of the serpent.

After all of this, shall I pour [kisses] around your neck, shall I caress your right hand stained with righteous blood seeing with my own eyes the fair sight, and shall I proclaim you in the middle of the City climbing upon the highest surface so that my voice may be heard throughout the world, if it is possible, to make it heard the furthest away?

What is there for me to make famous of you, most sagacious of all men? For not, if you prescribe it shall it be of a contrary nature, since the memory should not be from set purpose, not from commandment, but bubbling up from below gushing forth in noble substance. I will make you famous even in Hades if indeed that is where spirits are left to remembrance.

You need craft no message about yourself, since this happening suffices for you in the place of any, even this one of mine, even if it will shortly be said that you gave life to the dead empire of the Romans.


82. To the emperor Diogenes when he was blinded (trans. from Bibliotheca graeca Medii Aevi. ed. Constantine Sathas. Venice, 1876. v pp. 316-318)

I am completely at a loss, most noble and miraculous man, whether I should cry for you as a most unfortunate man, or I should be amazed at you a most glorious martyr. When I behold your sufferings surpassing in number and intensity, I count you among the most unfortunate. When I reflect upon your so blameless conscious and your desire for good, I reckon you among the martyrs. Even after myriads of evils, still you remain upright and grateful to God, so I place you above the ranks of the martyrs.

I know not whether any other person has been tried by so many evils and yet been so completely blameless. Know this from me, most divine man: every thing in life happens out of divine providence and reason. There is nothing unaccounted for, nothing unforeseen; the sleepless eye sees all and rewards the patient for their earthly anguish and misery.

I know that it is bitter to be deprived of the light, and this grievously after so many prior evils, but again I am sure that enjoyment of divine light previously readied awaits you to comfort your heart because God will light undefiled light in your spirit, and the day of salvation shall light up for you and the holy sun shall dawn for you so that you shall hate this fresh light and love that recognized and unspeakable light.

Give praise to God that you are a man whom he made his messenger, esteemed worthy to deprive of the better light of sight, and ranked amongst his sufferers [i.e. martyrs] and in depriving you of the mortal adorned you with the heaven-weaved garland.

Reflect on the coming day of judgment when either the good fortuned here will go almost entirely unnoticed on account of this, or will received paltry honor, while you shall stand on the right of just radiantly crowned with the martyr's diadem, eyes opened, inspecting the mysteries and marvels of the divine. The martyrs will caress your pained eyes, the angels will kiss them, and boldly I venture even God himself.

Reflecting upon this joy, be of good cheer, be glad at your sufferings after the divine Apostle: a man on the face of it, who God regarding your heart recognizes the divine part of it in your soul, not choking at earthly wounds body broken but look after the good seed unseen with unseen forces.

Above all and before all, I swear to you by God whom the true Logos serves that the emperor's soul is innocent and completely blameless. When it seemed not evil would happen to you, then this tribulation happened to you. He was distressed on hearing it wailing, grieving, beating his breast in anguish, weeping torrents of tears, wishing to die many times, and utterly agape. Put faith in what I write. It is not false, nor for the sake of favor, but true and far-shining with light. He cannot be comforted and is giving up on this life. You have this fine comfort, you have a lord you loves you, or rather might I say a legitimate and beloved son, and you have him to comfort you, to cry for you, to care for you, to embrace you, and to honor you.

I wanted to inscribe this letter with my very blood or tears, but since this was not possible, I wrote as such, I wrote, wailing and lamenting, that I eagerly desired and wanted to preserve you and was not able to save you from this calamity.