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Discovering Byzantium

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  Quote Dawn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Discovering Byzantium
    Posted: 03-Sep-2005 at 13:01

It's great - you write in a plain un feathered style that is very good to read. Much better than many of those that get payed to do it

next question-  This divine right (so to speak) of an emperor to rule - At what time did it become so ingrained in their social structure- around the same time it was developing in the west or before , What I'm tring to say Was this ideal copyed to the west - it is a principle many of the eropean monarchies used even to the point of including it in titles.

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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Sep-2005 at 18:02

Originally posted by Dawn

next question-  This divine right (so to speak) of an emperor to rule - At what time did it become so ingrained in their social structure- around the same time it was developing in the west or before , What I'm tring to say Was this ideal copyed to the west - it is a principle many of the eropean monarchies used even to the point of including it in titles.

I would say in the the 4th century AD.  As you might know, even in pagan times there was an official state religion in the Roman Empire, at the head of which was the emperor, as pontifex maximus (chief priest).  Subsequently a cult of the emperor grew where citizens and the imperial family would honor the emperor religiously as supreme ruler and then have his memory deified after his death.  However, Augustus and subsequent emperors tried to promote at least an outside appearance of a republican government, with provincial representatives and the Senate still in place (although power was largely concentrated into his hands and he had the final say).

By the time of the accession of Diocletian in 285 AD, however, there was a visible shift in the principate to one of autocracy.  Rome was no longer the stationary capital of the empire; under Diocletian, the imperial administration moved around when he traveled, often further east.  Since he spent much of his time on campaign in the east, and left the Western part of the tetrarchy to his junior Augustus,  certain trappings of Oriental autocracy were adopted from neighboring influences - the Sassanians, the Armenians, and the Arabs.  All power was concentrated into the hands of the emperor and a few officials; the emperor was revered as a god in court ceremony.  Constantine picked up much of this as Diocletian's successor, and it was given a more Christian flavor.  This is the basis for the Byzantine autocratic government that would remain in place for the next millennium. 

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Sep-2005 at 18:12

Thanks about the comments on style. While I can write in a feathered style (and sometimes will when I know it will get me marks) I consider doing that to be a bit pompous and self indulgent. Much better to communicate the message as effectively as possible to the reader.

As to the question of divine right I am glad you brought up this topic as it is one I have given some thought to. I see Byzantium as being a political and culural trend-setter for medieval Europe in many ways. The association of the Roman Emperor goes right back to the inception of the Empire, with Augustus making himself the son of a God by having his predecessor Caesar deified. In so doing this the Romans went even further than the Byzantines by making rulers and dynasties divine. However, this was a move which appealed more to the cult of personality more strongly adhered to in the Eastern provinces. The East had always been infused with a mystical fascination of great rulers, with the West often looking at things in a more materialistic fashion.

The real change IMHO occured not under Constantine but under Diocletian. The 3rd century in Rome witnessed well over 25 Emperors, showing just how human such men were and how vulnerable. When Diocletian became Emperor I see a number of reforms occuring which greatly advanced the divine association of the Emperor. He moved the capital East to Nicomedia (Constantine made the move East permanent, to the small Greek port of Byzantium which he renamed Constantinople). Diocletian also introduced a great deal of court ceremony and protocol designed to make the Emperor all the more inaccessable and mysterious to put an end to the constant assassinations which the 3rd century saw. When Constantine came to the throne he continued the policies begun by Diocletian, but made the critical addition of making Christianity the state religion. Most historians agree he did this as a practical move to unify and strengthen his Empire, and indeed Constantine made sure that church structures buttressed the state wherever possible. East Roman government was stronger than the West, and able to keep vigorous control of much of the church hierarchy and manipulate it for political ends.

The West collapsed but the East remained intact. The East was ready to adapt to the idea of the Emperor being divinely ordained, major Eastern kingdoms had for thousands of years ruled under such a cult of royal personality (e.g. Egypt). By the time of Justinian we see a clear and consistant association of the Emperor with the ecclesiastic authorities and Imperial propaganda (e.g. Ravenna mosaics) are clearly portraying the Emperor in divine role. The West, lacking such a strong central government which could dominate the Church and lacking such a cult of personality, would wait centuries longer before a similar cult of divine ordainment took hold. Quite often in the West it was the Church rather than secular government which was responsible for consistent and progressive social organisation from the period 600-1000. This allowed the Papacy to push for a separation of church and state. Only later when a strong central government was established in the West do we see the first introductions of divine ordainment into that part of the world. The West was clearly adopting this fashion from Byzantium, one only need look at the Byzantine silks, the paintings of Ottonian Emperors, the adoption of Byzantine power symbols and court protocol to see that. Though we may see the beginnings of divine ordainment as early as Charlemagne, IMHO it was not until the Ottonian Emperors that the practice gained consistent staying power and would progress into the form Europe would know centuries down the track.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Sep-2005 at 18:14
Wow, a simultaneous post BE. Good to see we both identified Diocletian as an important player in this issue.
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  Quote Dawn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-Sep-2005 at 01:55
By the time of Diocletion I presume they had done away with any seblance of the senate. Did the Byzantines have any sort of advisor body of similair nature? any form of elections what so ever and could this have contributed to it's greater longevity than in the west. All power in one.
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-Sep-2005 at 12:50

Originally posted by Dawn

By the time of Diocletion I presume they had done away with any seblance of the senate. Did the Byzantines have any sort of advisor body of similair nature? any form of elections what so ever and could this have contributed to it's greater longevity than in the west. All power in one.

Believe it or not, there was still a senatorial body in Diocletian's time.  The senators were basically wealthy landowners who had these massive estates called latifundia.  These are pretty much the basis for the medieval manors, which were worked by peasants tied to the land.  In the late Roman and early Byzantine periods the senatorial landowners were an important element in the agrarian economy.  As far as an advisory or legislative body, that function was pushed into the background by the autocratic emperors.  The senate did last until possibly the Comnenian, and maybe even the early Palaeologan period, but did not serve much purpose except for its members to bear the flashy title of senator.



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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-Sep-2005 at 21:07

When Augustus took power he had to play a delicate tight-rope game with the Senate. He had the practical vestiges of power, but if he wanted to keep it he had to assume legitimacy or go the way of his predecessor Julius Caesar. Augustus cemented the role of the Emperor in Roman life and made a return to Rebublican rule an option which was no longer pursued.

As BE has pointed out the Senate lasted a long time. For the most part it was a rubber stamp instution which did the Emperor's bidding. Once Augustus and Tiberius had gone future Emperors found their position in Roman society so strong that they could mistreat the Senate and its members, Nero has such a bad historical record perhaps precisely because he strove so hard for the popularity of the commoners while showing outright contempt for the Senatorial class - the class which would provide the educated men who would later record his reign. So for most of Roman-Byzantine history the Senate was a prestigious body which was largely a rubber stamp or advisory body for the Emperor.

We should keep in mind that the Senate did come to serve practical purposes through Romano-Byzantine history. Constantine I, in keeping with turning the city of Byzantium into New Rome, had a Senate installed in Constantinople and this continued to exist until at least the 13th century. During periods of weakness, distress, when there was a weak autocrat or when the autocrat found it prudent to draw on the expertise of some of his most prominent citizens the Senate would play major roles in administration and government. After the death of Justinian (565) we see the Byzantines making extensive use of the Senate for administrative purposes up until the tyrant Phocas (602-10) repressed them tyranically. While Heraclius was fighting in the East he left the Patriarch Sergius and the Senator Bonus jointly incharge of the capital Constantinople during one of its most gruelling sieges. The Senate was also looked to as a body to provide Emperors when a proper line of succession was not apparent, therefore the autocrat would sometimes even be designated or proposed by the Senate. Examples include Emperor Anastasius I, Leontius, Anastasius II and others. Though this did not happen all that often.

As late as Alexius III (another of my pet hates) (1195-1203) we see the Emperor convening a council of important nobles, officials and the entire Senate to discuss solutions to the critical problem of an extortion attempt by the German Emperor Henry VI. As late as this we see the Senate as a body providing advice, being consulted and taking an active (though not dominant) part in the workings of government.

All up the Senate was not a dominating force in government, but it remained an important body whose scope of power and contribution to the workings of government varied over the course of history. Sometimes it was a rubber stamp for the Emperor, other times it was a powerful body to be reckoned with and served a major role in the business of state.

Did it contribute to greater longevity? I would say yes, having a body to represent the interests of the upper classes and to act in an advisory capacity did help. The members of a state always are more willing to accept authority when they are represented, even if only symbolically. The Senate was able to partially fill the gaps left in times of autocratic weakness, and the replacement of the Senate by a nepotist association of the Emperor's top nobles and family members in Byzantium coincided with the first moves in the West towards more representative government (eg Magna Carta and the English Parliament). It was this period which saw the increasing rise of the West and decline of Byzantium.

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  Quote Dawn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04-Sep-2005 at 22:50

As BE says latifundia is the basis for the fuedal manor did Byzantine develope a fuedal system along the lines of medeival England or France ?

On another vain - You have established the existance and continued use of the senete id the continue to have Councils and other such officials (more along the lines of Augustus' Councils rather than the Republic Councils - those went by the wayside never to return) .

Did the lose of the senete to this "nepotist association" play a large part in the empires down fall and it have a name.

 

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  Quote Thracian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Sep-2005 at 21:02

This being a sort of a good topic for a question.....

Who are considered the greatest enemy of the Byzantine empire - overall in those ages?

The Bulgarian kingdom perhaps --- afterall i do believe that they were the closest to Constantinople and other major Byz. cities

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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05-Sep-2005 at 21:44
Originally posted by Thracian

This being a sort of a good topic for a question.....

Who are considered the greatest enemy of the Byzantine empire - overall in those ages?

The Bulgarian kingdom perhaps --- afterall i do believe that they were the closest to Constantinople and other major Byz. cities

 Varies from period to period in Byzantine history, it was once the Persians, the Avars, the Arabs, the Bulgars, the Turks Seljuk and then Ottoman and the Crusaders. Sometimes working together like the Avars and Persians did to besiege Constantinople in 626.

 The most persistant and dangerous enemy proved to be the Turks who slowly ate up the Byzantine empire, until the empires fragmentation after 1204 when the empire was to weak to hold the Turks back, the Turks didnt conquer the empire there and then probably because of problems elsewhere and civil wars, but obviously recovered and destroyed the empire in 1453 mopping up Mistra and Trebizond soon afterwards.

 The Bulgars were a persistant thorn in Byzantiums side but since they were liquidated by Basil II Bulgarokonos in the 11th century they cant really be considered Byzantiums greatest enemy. Besides the empire was almost always more concerned and concentrated on defending the eastern frontier. So they clearly saw a greater threat in the east.

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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 00:00

Dawn I must apologise but I don't have time today to answer your last question in the detail I would prefer. Internet is being reinstalled on Friday so I shall have free reign then .

As the the question of the Bulgars and the greatest enemy of Byzantium it does indeed vary from one period to another. As I see it there was always one 'great eastern enemy" Byzantium had to contend with. It was a long process over centuries of one successive eastern enemy after another wearing down Byzantium. The Turks spent 400 years completing the job, so they will get my vote as it was they who were ultimately fatal. The Bulgars were more of less damaging but never a fatal threat. Even when they besieged Constantinople under Samuel, Romanus I was sending out large eastern expeditions. The Bulgars damaged land that was not central to the survival of the Byzantine Empire and were never powerful enough to take Constantinople, making them more a serious annoyance which caused punitive damage rather than a fatal threat.

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  Quote Dawn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 01:26
Not a problem at all Constantine I'm happy to wait until you have time to share your insights.  Seeing as we have had a few other join in in our little school on Byzantine I'm sure we won't lack in material to keep it going till you get back. I'm sure Byzantine Emperor has some good stuff to add (hint hint )
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  Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 01:50

Originally posted by Dawn

I'm sure Byzantine Emperor has some good stuff to add (hint hint )

I will add that I pretty much agree with the eloquent posts of my esteemed colleagues, Heraclius and Constantine XI!

It is difficult to categorize which enemy was the most belligerent or threatening to Byzantium.  One often has to look at the context of the time period, like was mentioned above.  The emperor Heraclius ascended the throne at just the right moment, and with precisely the skills needed, to combat the deadly Persian and Avar threat of the 7th century. 

The Byzantines did not have a intelligent soldier emperor- or even an emperor skilled in diplomacy-in power during the siege of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders.  There was no one there to brandish cold steel or to assuage the hatred of Enrico Dandolo for Byzantium.  The imperium of the Byzantine emperors had fizzled out and had degenerated into internecine squabbling.  The Crusaders took advantage of the political crisis, as well as the disunity of the Byzantine people in Constantinople, and thoroughly trashed the city.  In essence they exacerbated the trend of decline that had already begun and eliminated any chance the Byzantines might have had for a rebound.  The Ottoman Turks dealt the death blow to the Empire, while the Crusaders had inflicted a mortal wound.



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  Quote Heraclius Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 08:25
Originally posted by Byzantine Emperor

I will add that I pretty much agree with the eloquent posts of my esteemed colleagues, Heraclius and Constantine XI!

It is difficult to categorize which enemy was the most belligerent or threatening to Byzantium.  One often has to look at the context of the time period, like was mentioned above.  The emperor Heraclius ascended the throne at just the right moment, and with precisely the skills needed, to combat the deadly Persian and Avar threat of the 7th century. 

The Byzantines did not have a intelligent soldier emperor- or even an emperor skilled in diplomacy-in power during the siege of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders.  There was no one there to brandish cold steel or to assuage the hatred of Enrico Dandolo for Byzantium.  The imperium of the Byzantine emperors had fizzled out and had degenerated into internecine squabbling.  The Crusaders took advantage of the political crisis, as well as the disunity of the Byzantine people in Constantinople, and thoroughly trashed the city.  In essence they exacerbated the trend of decline that had already begun and eliminated any chance the Byzantines might have had for a rebound.  The Ottoman Turks dealt the death blow to the Empire, while the Crusaders had inflicted a mortal wound.

 Very much appreciated

 The byzantine empire had the same problem the old Roman empire had, persistant and powerful tribes on its frontiers in seemingly infinite numbers.

 Alone rarely threatening the empires existance (except during the empires civil wars and fragmentation, 3rd century) but always keeping the legions pinned to the frontiers often when the legions were needed elsewhere. The barbarians tending to sack a few cities and pillage the land rather than attempting to destroy the empire or even having the means to do so.

 The decline of one of these powers as a threat to Byzantium e.g The Avars was immediately replaced by the Bulgars as the major threat in the west, the destruction of the Persian empire as a threat was immediately replaced by the Arabs in the east and so on.

 So the empire was always fighting off new and dangerous enemies as they migrated westward, sometimes travelling north of the Crimea and settling on the Danube or coming down from east of the black sea to settle on the empires eastern frontier.

 Constantine XI got it right in that there was always a constant threat from the east, an established power in direct competition with Byzantium, the nomadic tribes tending to invade the empire in its western provinces.

 Similar to the problems of the old Roman empire of the established Parthian/Sassinid empire in the east whilst barbarian tribes pounded the Danube and Rhine frontiers relentlessly. Eventually this pressure is bound to coincide with severe internal difficulties within the empire, causing the buckling of the imperial frontiers which only leads to even greater internal problems.

 The Turks where in the right place at the right time and the balance of power was broken, Byzantium having to to many invasions and holes to plug with to few armies and even fewer decent commanders to lead them.

 It should be pointed out though that Byzantine tactics and there success against these various enemies differed as often as the enemy did, sometimes a good well organised campaign was required, but sometimes the Byzantines simply bought these enemies off Justinian the great being a major fan of this tactic.

 Sometimes though the Byzantines exceptional ability for clever diplomacy or the continuation of the old maxim of *divide and conquer* sufficed. Even blowing the mind of the leader of a barbarian tribe with the majesty of Byzantiums court was used as a tactic.

 Often attempting a mixture of all these tactics and more to achieve whatever goal the empire wanted. The implementation and success of these tactics however also varied with the competance and respect the Emperor had.



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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06-Sep-2005 at 21:48

OK ladies and gents I will continue on with Dawn's question, and will also remark it's great you are taking such an interest in the Byzantine Empire.

The Senate's power waxed and waned over the centuries, sometimes it was part of the central apparatus of state and other times it was an inffectual body serving as the Emperor's rubber stamp. I would see the Senate as being of use during times when the autocracy was not strong enough to sustain its executive duties to the state, but I would not see the loss of Senatorial contributions to Byzantine politics as being decisive. A number of key reasons have been identified for Byzantium's decline which are far more evident in their effects. The remission of taxes on Italian merchant vessels, the increasing employment of mercenaries rather than local troops, the loss of an effective way of harnessing the military and economic power of Byzantine territory and other factors were far more critical to the Empire's decline. While the Senate may have had a role to fill from time to time and could be useful, other aspects of effective wielding of power in Byzantium were far more decisive. The Byzantine Empire undermined its military and economic fundamentals, had it not done so it would have continued as a strong and vibrant state with or without the Senate.

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  Quote Red_Lord Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-Oct-2005 at 04:37
I am sorry that I join so late.I saw that everyone tell what he learn in school about Byzantia but I can claim that half of our history is linked with Byzantia.From 540-1396 we are neighbour with the greatest empire for me.But I know better weak because we were strong there.I am sure I will learn  more about the empire here.
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  Quote Jazz Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-Oct-2005 at 04:47
Wow.

How in the world did I miss this thread?? 
(well, my work is the reason....)

The East Roman Empire is also my main focus in history.  I think that this political entity and it's civilization is vastly undervalued, and underappreciated.

Anyways, just to answer the original question from a few months ago:  How did I become interested in history in the first place, and why the special interest in this civilization:
It all began back in Grade 6 when we were discussing ad naseum about Ancient Greece.   When we got to Alexander of Macedon and that his exploits took him all the way to the Punjab that sparked my interest (my ancestry is Punjabi).

Fast forward to Grade 8 (and I've explained this part before) and how our teacher spent just over a month on the Roman Empire.  In the last week, we learned that the capital was moved to Constantinople, the Empire divided in 2, the Germanic migrations and the "Fall" of Rome - end of story and onto the Dark Ages.  I went to my teacher and asked "what about the East?" to which the reply was "We'll get to it later".  Anyways, I read up that chapter in the text on my own.  Well we never did ending getting to the Roman Empire of Constantinople, and near the end of the year I asked why not to which the response this time was "Well some parts of the course took longer and thus we had to cut some sections and that empire is not important to Western Civilization"

As I read more and more about it's history and European history, I came to realize that we would not even have Western Civilization if it were not for this civilization.  I don't mean to be preaching to a forum full of history fans, who no doubt understand it's significance....

It is funny now it takes the Pope (who apologized to Orthodox Christians in 2001 and expressed sorrow over the events that took place in 1204 last June (2004)) in order for something like the Fourth Crusade, one of, if not the single most important event in Europe's Middle Ages, to be discussed in the mainstream.....

For those who notice, I try my best not to use the term "Byzantine" in most of my references to it here and anywhere else.  Instead I will use "East Roman Empire" or "Later Roman Empire" or the "Roman Empire of Consantinople".  This is just my small personal way of trying to discredit those in the past who literally invented the term "Byzantine" because they did not think the Empire was worthy of the name "Roman".

I spent 4 days in Constantinople/Istanbul in October of 2004, and I will no doubt go back sometime soon.  Before and after my trip, when I would tell whoever that I was going there/was just the normal reaction was "why there for your first trip to Europe??"  When I replied that the city was for over 1000 years the capital of the Roman Empire, and for most of that time the richest city in Europe, I just got a bewildering look...

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  Quote Dawn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Oct-2005 at 18:56

Time to bring school back to order......

As a sideline to the other thread on serfs and from research the last few days on Consantine perhaps one of you fellow (we seem to have collected a few here) could elaberate on a statement I read . It went something to the effect: Constantine created a system that had a class similar to serfs or something like that (can't remember where i read it ...too many pages in the last 2 days)

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  Quote Don_Meaker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30-Oct-2005 at 19:07

I submit that the greatest threat to the Romans varied. The Eastern Roman Empire existed for some 1000 years, so that would be expected. Certainly the Goths managed to kill Valens in the 5th Century. Atilla was a threat, but after his death, the Huns were no longer a threat. The Samartians developed the technology of heavy mounted horsemen with the lance in rest, and that doomed the infantry to a second rank for some 1000 years, until the Scots and Swiss developed the infantry pike formation.

The greatest danger to the government was religion. Aside from its riots (religion, politics and the chariot races were interrelated subjects) based on religious principles, its imperial politics forbade tolerance or even  humility in religion. Constantine may have had doubts about One G-d, but he was dead set on one empire and one Emperor. Imagine the oppression of "heretics" like Coptic Christians, monophysites and such that they would embrace the relative tolerance of Islam rather than the tender mercies of the Orthodox Christians.

James Madision said that when ever a religion became established by the government, piety became fraud, faith became cowardice, and all charity became corruption. The Established Church of the Romans pushed them into wars against the Arians and Muslims, despite realistic probability of success. The Established Church also denied them the aid of Christiandom, so the Crusader states became separate kingdoms, and were separately conquered. The Venetian pirate expedition, launched by Latin Christians (aka the 4th Crusade) was the first to penetrate the Walls of Theodosius.

 


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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Nov-2005 at 07:25
Originally posted by Don_Meaker

I submit that the greatest threat to the Romans varied. The Eastern Roman Empire existed for some 1000 years, so that would be expected. Certainly the Goths managed to kill Valens in the 5th Century. Atilla was a threat, but after his death, the Huns were no longer a threat. The Samartians developed the technology of heavy mounted horsemen with the lance in rest, and that doomed the infantry to a second rank for some 1000 years, until the Scots and Swiss developed the infantry pike formation.

The greatest danger to the government was religion. Aside from its riots (religion, politics and the chariot races were interrelated subjects) based on religious principles, its imperial politics forbade tolerance or even  humility in religion. Constantine may have had doubts about One G-d, but he was dead set on one empire and one Emperor. Imagine the oppression of "heretics" like Coptic Christians, monophysites and such that they would embrace the relative tolerance of Islam rather than the tender mercies of the Orthodox Christians.

James Madision said that when ever a religion became established by the government, piety became fraud, faith became cowardice, and all charity became corruption. The Established Church of the Romans pushed them into wars against the Arians and Muslims, despite realistic probability of success. The Established Church also denied them the aid of Christiandom, so the Crusader states became separate kingdoms, and were separately conquered. The Venetian pirate expedition, launched by Latin Christians (aka the 4th Crusade) was the first to penetrate the Walls of Theodosius.

 


"



The religion was also a source of great strength. I agree with you when referring to the Eastern Christians, the religious division was disastrous.

But if they wanted to keep out the 4th Crusade all they really had to do was stop being decadent and insular and maintain a navy, religion or not a decent fleet would have sufficed.
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