byzantine aristocracy and bureaucracy

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  • 5/21/2018 Byzantine Aristocracy and Bureaucracy


    Byzantine aristocracy and bureaucracy 1

    Byzantine aristocracy and bureaucracy

    Painting of Emperor Basil II in triumphal garb,

    exemplifying the Imperial Crown handed down by


    The Byzantine Empire had a complex system of aristocracy and

    bureaucracy, which was inherited from the Roman Empire. At the

    apex of the pyramid stood the Emperor, sole ruler (autokrator) and

    divinely ordained, but beneath him a multitude of officials and

    court functionaries operated the administrative machinery of the

    Byzantine state. In addition, a large number of honorific titles

    existed, which the Emperor awarded to his subjects or to friendly

    foreign rulers.

    Over the more than 1000 years of the Empire's existence, different

    titles were adopted and discarded, and many lost or gained

    prestige. At first the various titles of the Empire were the same as

    those in the late Roman Empire. By the time of Heraclius in the

    7th century many of the titles had become obsolete; by the time ofAlexius I, many of the positions were either new or drastically

    changed, but they remained basically the same from Alexius' reign

    to the fall of the Empire in 1453.

    Background history

    In the early Byzantine period (4th to early 7th century) the system of government followed the model established in

    late Roman times under Diocletian and Constantine the Great, with a strict separation between civil and military

    offices and a scale of titles corresponding to office, where membership or not in the Senate was the major

    distinguishing characteristic.[1] Following the transformation of the Byzantine state during the 7th century onaccount of massive territorial loss to the Muslim conquests, this system vanished, and during the "classic" or middle

    period of the Byzantine state (8th-late 11th centuries), a new, court-centered system emerged. In this, the new titles

    derived from older, now obsolete, public offices, and dignities of a certain level were awarded with each office. A

    senatorial class remained in place, which incorporated a large part of the upper officialdom as every official from the

    rank of protospatharios (Literally "first sword-bearer;" originally the head of the Emperor's bodyguards) was

    considered a member of it. During this period, many families remained important for several centuries, and several

    Emperors rose from the aristocracy. Two groups can be distinguished: a metropolitan civil nobility and a provincial

    military one, the latter remaining regionally based and having large land-holdings, but apparently no military forces

    of their own, in contrast to contemporary Western Europe.

    The 10th and 11th centuries saw a rise in importance of the aristocracy, and an increased number of new families

    entering it. The catastrophic losses in the latter 11th century again prompted a reorganization of the imperial

    administrative system, at the hands of the new Komnenos dynasty: the older offices and titles fell gradually into

    disuse, while an array of new honorifics emerged, which signified primarily the closeness of their recipient's familial

    relationship to the Emperor. The Komnenian-led Empire, and later their Palaiologan successors, were based

    primarily on the landed aristocracy, keeping the governance of state tightly controlled by a limited number of

    intermarrying aristocratic families. In the 11th and 12th century for instance, some 80 civil and 64 military noble

    families have been identified, a very small number for so large a state.[2] Finally, in the Palaiologan system as

    reported by pseudo-Kodinos one can discern the accumulated nomenclature of centuries, with formerly high ranks

    having been devalued and others taken their place, and the old distinction between office and dignity had vanished.
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    Imperial titles

    These were the highest titles, usually limited to members of the imperial family or to a few very select foreign rulers,

    whose friendship the Emperor desired.

    Titles used by the emperors

    The back of this coin by Manuel I Comnenus

    bears his title,porphyrogennetos.

    Basileus (): the Greek word for "sovereign" which

    originally referred to any king in the Greek-speaking areas of the

    Roman Empire. It also referred to the Emperors of Persia. Heraclius

    adopted it to replace the old Latin title of Augustus (Greek form

    Augoustos) in 629, and it became the Greek word for "emperor."

    Heraclius also used the titles autokrator (

    "autocrat," "self-ruler") and kyrios ( "lord"). The

    Byzantines reserved the term "basileus" among Christian rulers

    exclusively for the emperor in Constantinople, and referred to

    Western European kings as rgas, a Hellenized form of the Latin word rex ("king"). The feminine form basilissareferred to an empress. Empresses were addressed as eusebestat avgousta ("Most Pious Augusta"), and were also

    called kyria ("Lady") or despoina (the female form of "despotes", see below). Primogeniture, or indeed heredity

    itself, was never legally established in Byzantine imperial succession, because in principle the Roman Emperor

    was selected by common acclamation of the Senate, the People and the Army. This was rooted firmly in the

    Roman "republican" tradition, whereby hereditary kingship was rejected and the Emperor was nominally the

    convergence of several offices of the Republic onto one person.Wikipedia:Citation needed Many emperors,

    anxious to safeguard their firstborn son's right to the throne, had them crowned as co-emperors when they were

    still children, thus assuring that upon their own death the throne would not be even momentarily vacant. In such a

    case the need for an imperial selection never arose. In several cases the new Emperor ascended the throne after

    marrying the previous Emperor's widow, or indeed after forcing the previous Emperor to abdicate and become amonk. Several emperors were also deposed because of perceived inadequacy, e.g., after a military defeat, and

    some were murdered.

    Porphyrogenntos () "born in the purple": Emperors wanting to emphasize the legitimacy

    of their ascent to the throne appended this title to their names, meaning they were born in the delivery room of the

    imperial palace (called thePorphyra because it was paneled with slabs of purple marble), to a reigning emperor,

    and were therefore legitimate beyond any claim to the contrary whatsoever.

    Autokratr () "self-ruler": this title was originally equivalent to imperator, and was used by the

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    Titles used by the imperial family

    Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos with his family: empress Helena

    Draga (right), and three of their sons, John, Andronikos and

    Theodore. John, as his father's heir and co-emperor, wears an exact

    replica of his imperial costume.

    Despots () "Lord": This title was used

    by the emperor