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.

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