Thursday, December 24, 2009

Attaliates: Reign of Theodora to Isaac Comnenus 1055-1059

Here is my translation of this section of my ongoing translation of the work of Michael Attaliates. This section picks up at the death of Constantine Monomachus in 1055 with the sucession of the empress Theodora, who was the last of the Macedonian dynasty. Our text recounts her reign and death as well as the civil war that ensued over the succession to the throne ending with the semisuccessful reign of Isaac Comnenus.

Attaliates' record of events is considerably shorter than his contemporary Michael Psellus's record, but it makes up for some of the military and political questions that Psellus's palace chronicle deals with only sparingly.

Michael Attaliates: Historia pp. 51-70

As Constantine was lying there dying, he wanted to appoint a new emperor himself and hand over to him the reins of government, so he summoned a man called Proteuon by letter with much zeal, yet his end won out his zeal. Monomachos reigned twelve years and seven months.

Immediately the previously mentioned Augusta Theodora (her sister died before her) took the throne and didn’t want to marry any man or co-rule with anyone. She dealt with everything herself through her eunuchs of the bed-chamber. She appointed to government administration an ordained man who was very learned, prudent, and experienced (the man’s name was Leo). He acted moderately in all respects and reasonably towards what befell him making the law his will thereby bringing order and lawfulness to the state. Not only were Theodora’s vassals free from turmoil, but also the other nations around her as God was pleased with how things were being virtuously carried out and he straigened out the curved ways.

When this empress was about to depart for the kingdom of Heaven (she ruled a year and eight months) her chief ministers were filled with concern over who was to rule next. As things turned out, they did not choose a noble spirit to succeed to the office, but one who would be laid back and subservient to them, who would be simple and carefree leaving the business of government to them.

So for this reason they proclaimed an elderly man name Michael, who had been raised in the manners and matters of the city excelling in the soldierly art.., who seemed simple and plain to them as well as wearied by old age so that consequently shared power with them would share and followed their advice and did exactly what they wanted him to. Because power was in the hands of many, different men and each of these co-rulers was proudly strutting around as emperor, much grumbling and bewilderment filled the aristocrats and the people at this 'democracy.' People who belonged to their group or were at all related to the emperor met with rewards regardless of whether they had benefitted the state, harmed it, or done nothing at all. As for everybody else, they were ignored unless they became the object of baseless arrogance and pointless huffing and puffing. As a result of this, one of the patricians named Isaac (Komnenos was his surname) who was famous in the east and of noble birth, insulted at being overlooked and contemptuously abused became filled with anger and shared his misfortune with some of the soldiers. They themselves had been infuriated and pained by the abnormality of what was happening, so they urged him to revolt. Little by little they won over a considerable number of conspirators and began laboring to bring their plot to fruition. The plan was to leave the capital and a short while later to raise the flag of revolt and raise Isaac on high as emperor thumbing their nose at the current ruler and so bringing their plot out in the open. Yet before all the arch-conspirators could do this, one of them named Bryennius, a native of Adrianople acting as military commander of Cappadocia, overpowered the agent sent by the emperor to distribute his soldiers’ provisions, or more correctly betrayed him and took a hold of him and put him in chains. However, some soldiers rose up to avenge the man and so he was released from the chains though he put out the eyes of previously enchained man. Fear then seized the other conspirators that their plot had been revealed by the blinded man so that they were forced to muster their forces and throw themselves into the fray immediately rather than be arrested separately and subjected to unspeakable atrocities. Their revolt got under way in the spring and it was joined by many other people its size growing daily. As commander-in-chief, they proclaimed the arch-conspirator Isaac Comnenus. Yet great numbers of eastern soldiers went over to the emperor in Byzantium. Comnenus had only those soldiers gathered together with him in revolt, while the emperor had all of those forces gone over to him and the western forces. Drawing on all of them, he fitted out an impressive force that he had cross from Europe to Asia. They came until Nicomedia where they set up camp in anticipation of their opponents' assault on them, but then they out for Nicaea by imperial command and were approaching the outskirts of Nicaea. Yet Isaac Comnenus had gotten to the city of Nicaea ahead of them and subjected it to himself leaving a group of his faction there at his rear before advancing forward against his opponent. He and the forces arraigned against him met each other in a fierce battle ten stades in front of the city at the place that since olden times bore the dual names of Polemon and Hades. The right flank wore down Comnenus’s men and on the left side it closed ranks and came close to the enemy advancing through the patricians. But then the tide turned and the men sent from Byzantium took flight. The right flank catching sight of their opponents’ defeat was emboldened again and a total rout of the imperial troops followed. Great numbers fell on both sides, while the greater part of those who took flight was cut down. It was a moment when father and son did not hesitate to slaughter one another forgetting nature with a son staining his hand with the murder of his father and a brother delivering the mortal blow to brother and no discrimination was made or pity taken on account of kinship, relation, or the fact that they were all the same people until they halted themselves in their crazed mania on perceiving the calamity raising a terrible shriek of grief. However, as Comnenus had triumphed he was greeted with triumphal acclamation and proclaimed Augustus by everyone and was high in everyone‘s hopes in which they would not miss the mark. In addition, the famed magister Nicephorus Botaniates from a family prominent for its glory and evidence in brave deeds and the commanding of troops, did noble deeds and proved his great might during that battle.

The next day, Comnenus took command of his forces and took the road leading to the capital. And yet before he even reached the shore opposite the city, a conspiracy was set in motion by the people in power at Constantinople against the emperor. Whether the archpriest and patriarch Cerularius were in cahoots with them, or not, is unclear and not evident. Nevertheless, on account of what he received in the end and what followed, these suspicions do not seem without some serious grounding in the truth, since he was to work in concord with Comnenus and be a recognized member of the chief counsel as well as his nearest of kin and his friend the vestarch Constantine Ducas, the husband of the patriarch’s sister, who gave and received much favor on this account. The plot was set in motion and all of the chief conspirators as well as its partisans…came together in the Church of Haghia Sophia alleging that the emperor had broken their contracts whereas Comnenus would not do so. They wanted to make peace with him and make him emperor instead. They began to acclaim Comnenus showing themselves to be his prosecutors and his advocates and allies at the same time. They said Comnenus had sworn off and renounced his friendship with the emperor once and for all and they conferred the honor of the imperial dignity upon him in stead. The patriarch’s nephews joined the people going to them since they wanted to find out what was the cause of the insurrection and were sent off in fear by the patriarch when they seemed to be arrested by the rioters and they would have been manhandled, had not the patriarch arrived and joined their conspiracy. He was spurned by nature as he as their uncle he was almost their father and because it seemed necessary so that the people would not grow further at odds with one another and their anger burst aflame resulting in civil war in the city. He entered into the Church and the innermost sanctuary and made himself a judge of the proceedings throwing his lot in with them. His move proved the turning point for the people wanting to depose the emperor and replace him with Comnenus because he was held in high estimation by many people. And so to prevent the insurrection from degenerating into civil war, he made the Comnenus’s acclamations louder and he instructed his priests to do likewise as it was the general sentiment. This made it doubtful whether the patriarch premeditated it.

And so everyone started to coalesce into one faction around Comnenus and the old man's power collapsed. Old man was what the group of conspirators against him called him and the name as stuck till the present day. When word reached Comnenus, a little bit away in the village of Chrysopolis, about what was happening, it emboldened him with news that the palace would be opened to him and all of the people would acclaim him. Yet he did not proceed until he got more concrete news about the old man’s deposition. And so, the patriarch called all those in power to him prudently, some willingly, others unwillingly, and he took over unnaturally the forces of the army and people and the imperial prerogative, and he decided things as they seemed best at the time. He dispatched men to the old men with an ultimatum: the emperor must at once abdicate and become a monk if he wanted to live as this was the will of the people. Michael, although he had the soldiers at court and those who stood behind him with him, he did not go out to defend himself against his enemies there, capture them readily, and assert his might, instead saying that permitting the city proper to be stained with murder and slaughter would be an act of hatred for humanity and selfishness on his part. Looking down on his crimson buskins, he said, "Michael won’t give up his piety for these”, and cast them aside far from his feet and held out his head for the people sent to him to tonsure him. Having gladly exchanged the monkish state for the imperial throne and a rough rag for the expensive and precious clothing, he was sent off that very day in black and joined the ranks of the monks. The patriarch received him kindly smiling. “Welcome”, he said to him and embraced him with a kiss. Michael replied, “May God worthily embrace you in turn”, and surrendered himself up to one of the patriarch's establishments, the above mentioned Anachorite, having reigned only one year.

And so Comnenus entered into the city by sea with the entire fleet being saluted with acclamations, shouting, and the noise of trumpets and other instruments. He entered into the palace near the late afternoon of September of the tenth indiction. On the following day, he went in dazzling procession to the Great Church of the Divine Wisdom with a large escort where he was crowned by the patriarch upon a raised platform. From there, he proceeded wearing the crown having provided proof of his vigorousness and great virtue not only to his subjects, but also already the barbarians, since he became emperor by battle and by the sword and had shown that he was capable of ruling. In his official images, he was portrayed holding a drawn sword with a tax register and it was n this way that that he ruled over the empire and handled its business. Those who had undertaken and fought for this victory, he decked out with generous honors and he also appointed many tax collectors, thus granting the people with the appropriate honor. Above everyone else, he dealt with the patriarch very reverently treating him like he was his father and he made his nephews preeminent with chief honors and promotions. He also dedicated the rights owed by religious establishments to imperial prerogative to the Church including even palace ones so that somebody would need to be appointed by the emperor for their management and their keeping and preservation of sacred treasures, but rather both their selection of individuals and administrative business would rest under the authority of the patriarch.

Once set on the throne, he began to look to the finances of the empire and the great task of paying the soldiers since wars confronted him requiring huge cost in order to overcome his opponents and bolster the Romans on all fronts. In need of money, reckoning their wealth without end, he instituted a heavy tax on those paying the public revenue. Then he cut off payments to office holders and like a great insatiable hunter sought after many from anywhere it could be got. Afterwards, he paid attention to economy and the making over of fields to the imperial dominion. On this account, he then deprived many private persons of a lot of possessions ignoring the imperial chrysobulls by which lordship over them was conferred. He even descended on some of the monasteries which possessed great and rich possessions which owed nothing to the imperial treasury. He seized many of them presenting the explanation that he was leaving the monasteries and the monks what they needed taking for the imperial treasury the excess, which seemed illegal and impious while for the pious it seemed ready sacreligion, but nothing out of place to people more profoundly looking at things. On both sides, though, it was seen as advantageous because the monks were free from care inconducive to their state as he was moving them, who were taught poverty, away from money and he was taking none of their necessaries away from them as well as freeing their rural neighbors of their burden because the monks would force them to part from their lavish and expensive possessions having been sick with greed and gotten used to their illness trumping their prosecutors if ever a suit was brought against them since through the exchange of money and property they could make them withdraw their suit. The treasury compelled to pay its contents to many people and many parties welcomed this addition to its revenue as an immeasurable relief and the measure did not injure others quantitatively.

It was these doings of the emperor that kept him in the capital for their implementation. During this time, the patriarch charged by his previous doings that caused him to think his power more extensive than it was and emboldened by the emperor’s affection for him, upbraided him many times for his undertakings that did not beseem him giving him one moment the counsel of a father, the next a chastising and threatening telling off in place of moderate words of praise and suggestions such that the emperor began to grow gradually wearied by him and grew to think of his counsel as raving. Not much later, born down upon by these words, the emperor decided to arrest the man and strip him of his position since he had overlooked his duties and in this way escape censure. And so, when as the celebration of the Archangel was approaching in November the patriarch Michael went to the monastery raised by him from the ground up going outside of the great unsacked, and God-crafted city celebrating the festival lavishly near the western part of the city. And so the emperor sharpened his treachery, shined his blade, and unsheathed his innermost feelings to those around him and sent one of his servants disguised as a priest to speak with the patriarch about some private matters providing the occasion for thought and talk in regards to it in private. When they started to speak, a multitude of armed soldiers burst in surrounding him and lifted him irreverently off his throne and carried him off. They sat him on a mule and drove him to the harbor at Blachernae. When the cowardly imperial order came, they loaded him onto a boat and the chief shepherd was carried off into exile like a wrongdoer for speaking perhaps too much. Likewise those dear to him of his kin suffered the same fate.

Did this man bear his suffering irresolutely and ignobly and let the unfaithful, audacious act of the emperor shake his faith? No, instead resolutely and nobly he is celebrated to have won out with courage far surpassing Job because he did show himself at pained by the loss of his office, his state, his license to speak, or his high office and he defeated his attraction for these things bearing it as recompensation for his homeland and his wife. Blessing he blessed the Lord and did not cease giving him thanks, while he did not call his suffering, suffering, but an exact chastisement, a lesson leading to perfection, and a step towards greater virtue. He did not lose his humbleness putting himself to blame and deeming himself worthy of what he had suffered making his mind prisoner to God though he did not loss his noble state of mind. He did not entirely collapse or lose his zeal such as the soul may do when stricken with panic by material things downward-leading.

When the emperor learned of this, he felt terrible and was repentant: he needed to set it right, though he did not feel he needed to punish himself for having acted wrongly. It was his wish to bring charges against him and show the unworthiness of a man who had been already for many years invested with the office and administered correctly the word of God. Some of those in office held his opinion though they were fully aware of the man's reputation. However, they too backed away with time as that is how flatterers work. The emperor testing his devotion sent some of the capital's most preeminent men, who he thought were skilled with words than others, to discuss with him abdicating so that the charges against him would not be brought in the synod and church gathering. Yet he showed himself impregnable to them and extremely inflexible breathing fire with his tongue and gesture and made them feel ashamed of themselves and beg him for his forgiveness. When they returned to the emperor who sent them to tell him what happened, they did not dissemble at all and said, "We were defeated, Your Majesty, we were defeated, the man with all his threats was better and stronger than us in words and persuasion and he was beyond by far taking. If you want to go after an unassailable and an incontestable man, consider defeat and repentance hereof." The emperor heard them and understood taking care to how and in what way to go about things. In the meantime, the patriarch ended his life in peace, God seeing a greater purpose for him, having foreseen God’s calling for him as such was the virtue of the holy man and because he numbered amongst the good in practice and purity in the midst of their commemoration for the incarnation of our savior Jesus Christ because of his love for us. So he exchanged the mortal and perishable life for the immortal and indestructible. Such was what came about during the last days of the patriarch. The emperor was overcome by repentance and feared the man's virtue not knowing in what way to set right his sinful mistake, so he ordered his corpse to be brought back to the capital. He was entombed in the place which he had selected when he was alive near the monastery he built. A great miracle that took place after his death worthy of a patriarch was that a indesrible symbol appeared on his hand in the shape of a cross. His precious hand has maintained its appearance peace and blessing through the cross up to the present time in spite of the body’s decomposition.

As patriarch, the proedrus and protovestarius Constantine Lichudes was chosen having made himself illustrious in both the business of the emperor and the city from the proclamation of Monomachus until his own, with responsibility in the palace for the administration of everything. He was such a gift giver and considerate that nearly everyone had something to gain from his alacrity and was utterly amazed.

As the Sauromatians in the west along with the Scythians near the Ister River, who the masses call the Pechenegs, were causing trouble, the emperor therefore decided to lead Roman forces against them. Making his preparations for war and calling up his soldiers, he set out all in arms. When he got to Sardica, he fought with the Sauromatians and forced them to make peace and encouraged by the peace turned his attention to the other peoples, I mean the Scythians. Their chiefs were divided amongst themselves with some coming before him and agreeing to keep their pledges of peace in order to be delivered of all fear. Only one, returning towards the by of the Ister River taking possession of a barren rock as a refuge (Selte was the barbarian‘s name) did not want give in to the emperor and instead, being so disdainful of him went out onto the flat land drawing up his lines against the Romans. Yet his foulmindedness got its proper results as he was overpowered by a small part of the army ranged against him and took flight hiding in a great wood like a cowering hare with those under him. The emperor taking the refuge, left behind a garrison and appointed it a commander eagerly turning about for home.

Setting up his encampment near the feet of the mountain [hill?] called Lobitzus, in line with the name of the place. A ghastly storm and a terrible snow storm struck straight away even though September was still under way doing much damage and destruction. Nearly all of the horses and many of those there weakened by the cold and the constant, unending snow storm after such a lengthy time died, while the supplies left behind unexpectedly for those on the expedition became a casualty of the flood of the river and the winter. When it stopped, the emperor set out in the morning and crossed the nearby river swollen by the river abandoning his own men. Pausing his march for a little, he stood in the shadow of a tree along with some of his high in command, and a little bit later there was a sound that caused the emperor to take a step forward a little out of its range as broken at its very roots it fell with a great noise. The emperor was mute seeing how closely he had escaped peril, it proving no favorable beginning.

Leading on the army, he continued on his way. A false and incorrect report caused him to make haste as it said that the city man sent by him to collect public revenue in the east had rebelled. On reaching the capital already vexed with the wretchedness of what happened, he found that the accusation against the officer was phony becoming disheartened and going to the opposite strait opposite the capital where he busied himself with the hunt bolstering his spirits with constant exercise. Around spring there was a lightning strike at those spots that go by Neapolis. The emperor stricken as the saying goes set out from them and came by boat to the palace where after struggling with disease for a couple of days he began to await his final destiny, Consequently he made his repentance to obtain the mercy of God and exchanged the authority of an emperor for the solemn and unaffected life of monk appointing emperor not his brother John, nor his nephew, nor the husband of his daughter, but the proedrus Constantine Ducas, who had always been his conscious fellow combatant for acquisition of the throne. Comnenus then himself in monkish rags went to the monastery of Studius still being worn down by disease living…after a reign of two years and three months living no less than that as monk.

After his death, it was noticed that his coffin was filled with liquid, which caused people to remark. Some said that it was clear evidence of him being punished for the massacre during the civil war at Nicaea. Others said it was because of him wronging many people and his partial and in whole stopping up of payments from the imperial treasury to most people, while others said it was for his seizure of church and private property, still others saying it was for everything. Yet some people said it was because he later came to his senses. It was anything but the punishment of the late emperor since they think he repented because he called upon Divine mercy to have pity on him. Those in opposition to them said that the man was made repentant only after his retirement and that he had not fully changed his life. Some believed that water was a work of holiness for his delayed repentance, though everyone accepted that it is not a sin to force Divine goodwill, if a person gives up their vices and elects the path of righteousness. Personally, I am of the opinion that he gave his vices and went from worse to better, though I condemn the lesser no more.

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