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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries


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Old January 11th, 2017, 11:54 AM   #81

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Again, your understanding of the word "doomed" seems to be flawed. Did the loss of central Anatolia weaken the byzantine empire's position and open it up more to attack? Yes. Was it an irreversible death blow which the empire had absolutely no chance to recover from? Absolutely not. There were problems with the Byzantine empire under the Komnenos dynasty, but they were not so significant that the empire was in any way "doomed", in fact by almost all metrics it was going through a golden age.
I think that in this thread we are only eliminating the sack of 1204 and everything before is the same. Then, I can say that Manzikert doomed the Empire. The Golden Age of the Empire was under Justinian and under the Macedonians, the Komnenoi were a successful dynasty, but I wouldn't call their age golden, except in the field of culture. I mean, they had to call westerners to help them.

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On the stability of the empire, did you forget that a string of incompetent emperors was what led to the loss of Anatolia in the first place? Even with the Taurus and Armenian mountains incompetent rule managed to lead to a serious loss of territory, it was nothing exclusive to the komnenian and angelic period.
Yes, but it was a string of bad emperors that brought to the Manzikert disaster, it only took one emperor to bring down the Komnenian state.

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Byzantine control of the western Balkans was never strong, at most the local slavic nobles paid some tax and didn't attack byzantine possessions closer to home. For most of the komnenian period the Bulgarians were pretty loyal and much more closely tied to the government at Constantinople. A significant portion of the Balkan population were Byzantines though, and the area which is now modern Greece became much wealthier during the Komnenian period. Byzantine control of the eastern balkans was pretty solid, certainly more so than it had been before the Komnenian period, outside of Andronikos's reign.
But the western Balkans (in fact, all of Balkans) were lost to the Bulgarians and Serbs before, but then the empire had a strategic reserve in Anatolia. That made the difference.

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Based on what? The Byzantines had good border control and were quite proactive in settling new civilians in Anatolia, they wouldn't have let the parts of Anatolia under their rule be settled by turks.
I was talking about the Turkish-controlled part.


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Are you trying to say that the Byzantines themselves thought less of the Emperor during the Komnenian period? Because I've never seen anything to suggest that in the slightest. The Komnenian emperors, barring Andronikos of course, were loved by all factions of the polity (aristocracy, bureaucracy, army, and people). While there may have been A saying that the empire wouldn't last forever, the opinion of byzantine writers tends to lean more towards "the Romans are destined to be the eternal rulers of the world as god's new chosen people" than the pessimistic self deprecating attitude you seem to think they had.
I was simply stating that Manzikert was a spiritual defeat as well because the emperor was captured by the Muslims. This probably had some effect on the people. And they were pessimistic, just look at the fall of Constantinople and all the prophecies about the event.

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Again, it was more vulnerable, but it wasn't vulnerable. Constantinople was pretty much completely safe from the turks, who would have had to conquer the western anatolian coast and then somehow make a fleet capable of beating the byzantine one. The threat of the turks was to Anatolia itself, not anything beyond that, at least not until the Paleologian period. That being said, western Anatolia was still quite secure from the turks in the Komnenian period. Even after Manuel's defeat at myriokephalon no Anatolian territories were lost.
Click the image to open in full size.

vs.

Click the image to open in full size.

The enemy forces were certainly closer to the capital. At that point, they didn't have the ability to attack it, but they were close.

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Alexander ruled for only two years, Constantine VIII barely did anything other than waste some money, and Leo VI wasn't that good, but he was mediocre at worst. Andronikos was worse than all of those by a good amount, since he heavily antagonized the core of the byzantine military and administration, significantly reducing the empire's ability to fight and govern.
But it took just one emperor the bring the state down. Btw. Constantine repelled many anti-dynatoi laws of his brother which reduced the power of central government.

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I would bet that had an emperor similar to Leo VI ascended the throne after Manuel, the byzantine empire would have stayed pretty static and stable. It's not that the empire was incredibly unstable to the point that one mediocre emperor would bring it down, but that Andronikos was a walking disaster of an emperor the likes of which hadn't been seen for a long time.
The empire didn't collapse totally before and it had some pretty bad emperors before.

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There's "want" and then there's "need". The komnenian emperors wanted to recover Anatolia and expand their interests, but they didn't need to. The empire was in a pretty good position as it was, and while owning central Anatolia would make that position better, not having it wouldn't put them in an unbearably bad position.
It didn't put in an unbearable position in the short term, but it didn't put them at a disadvantage in the long run. Komnenians wanted to retake Anatolia, but they wanted it for the good of the Empire. And since so many campaigns were directed there, I would think it was more "need". Or do you believe a Byzantine emperor who saw himself above other monarchs would call on the West to help him if the situation wasn't bad.
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Old January 11th, 2017, 11:52 PM   #82

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The Catholic campaign of 1204 which targeted Jerusalem in the beginning went off track and aimed at Istanbul. As a result of this, Eastern Roman Empire (since Byzantine is an artificial title) basically ended (also politically collapsed) and a Latin Empire was established.

. After capturing Istanbul, Venetians and other Crusaders pillaged the city for three days based on the laws of war of the era. They looted monuments, buildings and also tormented the local population. The scale of plunder, massacres and rape committed by the Latin soldiers was at such an unimaginable level that it would shock the Vandals and Goths who sacked Rome and other cities of the Holy Roman Empire. The Venetians managed to keep most of the wealth they captured. But the Crusaders (French, Flemish, Germans etc.) destroyed everything without any segregation. They gave a break to this destruction only when they eased their appetite with wine, raped the Orthodox nuns and killed the Orthodox priests and monks.

The Catholic Crusaders also expressed their hatred for the Orthodox Romans by tarnishing the holiness of Hagia Sophia. They burned and destroyed all the religious and holy books, paintings and silver icons of the cathedral, used the silver baptismal and ceremonial plates of Hagia Sophia as glasses to drink wine, placed a prostitute to the throne of the patriarch inside the cathedral, made her sing and listened the songs as if there was a concert. The Crusaders considered all this as an act of revenge for the partition of Orthodox Church from the Catholic Church 200 years ago and massacred the people without any regret or remorse. Orthodox Romans convinced themselves that even if the Seljuk Turks captured the city, they wouldn't be as brutal as the Catholic Crusaders.

< Philip Hughes, History of the Church, Vol. II, Pope III. Innocentius & The Latin East, p. 372, Sheed & Ward, 1948 >

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Alexios I was only able to reconquer Anatolia with the help of Crusaders but the most important point is that Manzikert opened Anatolia to Turkish settlement and the Byzantine Greeks were assimilated.
Nobody was assimilated under the rule of Turks.

. The Turks did not make any discrimination among the folks under their reign. They practiced same laws for everybody, protected the identities of people and did not exploit them. The tolerance of Turks is one of their most important contribution to the civilization of the world.
< Jean Paul Roux, French Turkologue >
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Old January 12th, 2017, 12:00 AM   #83

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Nobody was assimilated under the rule of Turks.

. The Turks did not make any discrimination among the folks under their reign. They practiced same laws for everybody, protected the identities of people and did not exploit them. The tolerance of Turks is one of their most important contribution to the civilization of the world.
< Jean Paul Roux, French Turkologue >
What went wrong?
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Old January 12th, 2017, 12:02 AM   #84

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Nomad1,
Not immediately, but over time Anatolia was Turkified. There were still communities of Greeks as well, but the region was inhabited by semi-nomadic Turkish tribes who displaced some of the local population. And btw. where did you get that the Turks didn't discriminate. The Ottomans used the old dhimmi system for non-Muslims and practiced devshirme, the taking of Christian boys to train them as Jannisaries.
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Old January 12th, 2017, 02:29 AM   #85

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We need to be careful with the "mercenaries". First off, the term is not always defined as clearly as it should be by certain Marxist historians who simply use it to refer to soldiers who work for money. This also includes local, professional soldiers, which leads to confusion. Second, we only hear about foreign mercenaries when they're being disloyal and in rebellion. When they are working as they are supposed to, the sources remain silent, and I can't help but feel that this has skewed our entire picture. I find it difficult to believe that the state would continue to seek out foreign soldiers if it found them so problematic.

Why do we assume that the theme system was so great and so instrumental to Byzantium's survival*? Why do we speak of survival at all, when the thematic system was going out of fashion in the tenth and eleventh centuries because it simply no longer served a purpose?



*answers should not include, "because some 19th c. Russian scholars who saw orthodox peasant-soldiers as the backbone of the state and we've never had an original thought since then."
If we compare the theme system with the practice of hiring professional troops, we can see that the theme system was more successful. At the battle of Manzikert most of the troops of the Byzantine army were foreign mercenaries such as Franks, Alans and Turks. After the defeat the Turks were able to capture Anatolia quite easily. While in the past with the theme system there were local recruits that could hold the Arabs when they invaded Anatolia.

Why was the theme system out of fashion? As far as it existed it proved to be successful by 1025.

Until the 11th century and I mean by 1025 the theme system was working just fine. When afterwards the Byzantine army rellied mostly on mercenaries they lost much of their territory and they saw many times Frankish, or Catalan mercenaries to rebel and to cause more damage to the empire. In my opinion this system of hiring foreign soldiers was a disaster.
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Old January 12th, 2017, 02:41 AM   #86
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Nomad1,
Not immediately, but over time Anatolia was Turkified. There were still communities of Greeks as well, but the region was inhabited by semi-nomadic Turkish tribes who displaced some of the local population. And btw. where did you get that the Turks didn't discriminate. The Ottomans used the old dhimmi system for non-Muslims and practiced devshirme, the taking of Christian boys to train them as Jannisaries.
On the flip side did the Byzantines have any temporary success in 'Romanising/Hellenising' the Turks and converting them to christianity? Or were the Turks so thoroughly arabized into jihadist warfare that they would not absorb the local culture/religion?

I'm going to assume the overall answer is no - that the cultural differences between the Turks and Byzantines so strong that there was little chance the Empire could assert cultural dominance over the Turks as it did with the Slavs. The Slavs were pagans initially and it seems that pagans were much more easily converted to christianity then muslims were.
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Old January 12th, 2017, 02:45 AM   #87

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Well, the problem is that the Empire never really held any Turkish-inhabited land. When the Komnenoi recovered parts of Anatolia, the Turkification had only just started so most inhabitants were still Greeks.
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Old January 12th, 2017, 02:47 AM   #88
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If we compare the theme system with the practice of hiring professional troops, we can see that the theme system was more successful. At the battle of Manzikert most of the troops of the Byzantine army were foreign mercenaries such as Franks, Alans and Turks. After the defeat the Turks were able to capture Anatolia quite easily. While in the past with the theme system there were local recruits that could hold the Arabs when they invaded Anatolia.

Why was the theme system out of fashion? As far as it existed it proved to be successful by 1025.

Until the 11th century and I mean by 1025 the theme system was working just fine. When afterwards the Byzantine army rellied mostly on mercenaries they lost much of their territory and they saw many times Frankish, or Catalan mercenaries to rebel and to cause more damage to the empire. In my opinion this system of hiring foreign soldiers was a disaster.
I think the theme system was mostly neglected - I think Basil 2 started this trend as he increasingly used professional soldiers + mercenaries.

A professional army as others have identified works best for offensive campaigns and pitched battles but isn't well suited to a defensive war of attrition. I suspect that the Emperors after Basil 2 feared the powerful military families of the Themes that produced the generals who led the theme armies, thus the emperors would rather have mercenary armies that were easier (at least initially) to control.
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Old January 12th, 2017, 02:54 AM   #89

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Nomad1,
Not immediately, but over time Anatolia was Turkified. There were still communities of Greeks as well, but the region was inhabited by semi-nomadic Turkish tribes who displaced some of the local population. And btw. where did you get that the Turks didn't discriminate. The Ottomans used the old dhimmi system for non-Muslims and practiced devshirme, the taking of Christian boys to train them as Jannisaries.
Devshirme system was not a policy of assimilation. It appeared as a result of military needs. Before the Ottoman Empire, Roman Empire and many Islamic empires practiced similar systems. The physically strong recruits were sent to the Janissary Corps, the smarter and more talented ones were sent to palace schools (Enderun) to be raised as bureaucrats. The recruitment process was done once in a few years, not every year. The number of recruits usually did not exceed 5,000-6,000. The average age of recruitment was 15. That means they were old enough not to forget their identities. Even when they got older, they still remembered their parents, village and relatives. For instance, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, who was born to a Serbian Orthodox family. He employed all of his family members as civil servants. But the personal information of the recruits were also officially registered.

Unlike the common narrative, not every recruitment happened by force. Residents of some poor villages voluntarily sent their children as they considered it a chance for a better future. The recruits of Devshirme system were never considered and treated as "slaves" since the enslavement of Muslims was forbidden according to the Islamic law. Devshirme system began to decline in 17th century. According to Evliya Chelebi, 8,000 during the reign of IV. Murad and 1,000 during the reign of III. Ahmed (18th century), were recruited. But during the middle of this century (18th), Turks were also included to this system. Nevşehirli Damat Ibrahim Pasha was one of them. Devshirme system was practically abolished after the 18th century.

As a summary, if a "Turkification" took place, it was a demographic one which lasted for centuries. "Mass assimilation, forcing people to convert to Islam" and similar stories are political fallacy.
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Old January 12th, 2017, 02:56 AM   #90

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I think the theme system was mostly neglected - I think Basil 2 started this trend as he increasingly used professional soldiers + mercenaries.

A professional army as others have identified works best for offensive campaigns and pitched battles but isn't well suited to a defensive war of attrition. I suspect that the Emperors after Basil 2 feared the powerful military families of the Themes that produced the generals who led the theme armies, thus the emperors would rather have mercenary armies that were easier (at least initially) to control.
I agree with you , that is my view too. Also when there was the theme system the emperor John Tzimiskes , he was able to repel the Rus, and then he launched a campaign to Syria and Palestine and his army reached near Jerusalem in 975 AD. And actually the Byzantine reconquest of Cilicia, Crete, Antioch etc was based on the theme system armies. So that system of local recruits and the imperial tagmata which were based on proffessional soldiers had both offensive and deffensive capabilities.
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