Basil II doomed Byzantine Empire?

Oct 2011
482
Croatia
Reading this, on page 12 it is stated that dissafection of Armenian nobles who were forcibly settled in Anatolia that was to blame for its swift loss to Seljuks. If I recall it correctly, however, it was precisely Basil II who absorbed Armenian border states, which had long helped protect Roman border, and also forced resettlement. He also promulgated policies which caused dissatisfaction among Anatolian landowning elite, though that assertion is questionable, as it is possible his novels were actually aimed against rich people from the capital and coastal areas who were attempting to buy military lands.

Indirectly, his and previous Emperors' successes meant that the Empire relied increasingly on full-time professional army, which also led to centralization of power in general. This meant that, if an Emperor was incompetent, the entire Empire was in danger - whereas with thematic system, the Empire could keep chugging on until somebody better came. Secondly, it also meant that the emperors after Basil II saw little need to protect the thematic landowning soldier from magnates' depredations; thus it could be said that the Empire became a victim of its own success (as indeed happens very often throgh history).

However, I also found here a theory that decline of the Empire was a result of Medieval Warm Period, which caused a decline in the agriculture of Asia Minor, and that Basil II attempted expansion was to adress that concern. This theory actually makes sense, and I recall reading something similar to that effect; are there any good works covering it?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist
Oct 2019
5
Athens
Basil II doomed the empire by not producing an heir or at least designating a capable one.
Yes, he stripped the empire off of a pool of skilled generals who came from the Anatolian aristocracy. But who wouldn’t if these people had rebelled against him multiple times.
Emperor Constantine Monomachos was actually the emperor who led the empire into its furthest eastern expansion in Armenia. His ,was the mistake of bringing the empire into direct contact with the Turk nomads and the Seljuks.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Futurist and Picard

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,899
Blachernai
Reading this, on page 12 it is stated that dissafection of Armenian nobles who were forcibly settled in Anatolia that was to blame for its swift loss to Seljuks. If I recall it correctly, however, it was precisely Basil II who absorbed Armenian border states, which had long helped protect Roman border, and also forced resettlement. He also promulgated policies which caused dissatisfaction among Anatolian landowning elite, though that assertion is questionable, as it is possible his novels were actually aimed against rich people from the capital and coastal areas who were attempting to buy military lands.

Indirectly, his and previous Emperors' successes meant that the Empire relied increasingly on full-time professional army, which also led to centralization of power in general. This meant that, if an Emperor was incompetent, the entire Empire was in danger - whereas with thematic system, the Empire could keep chugging on until somebody better came. Secondly, it also meant that the emperors after Basil II saw little need to protect the thematic landowning soldier from magnates' depredations; thus it could be said that the Empire became a victim of its own success (as indeed happens very often throgh history).
This narrative has too much of Psellos in it for my taste, in which individuals dictate the empire's fortunes. From the perspective of Constantinople in the 1040s or so, there was no need for the troops from the themata - the tagmatic and doukate soldiers were an effective, well-oiled machine. No one could have predicted the sudden arrival of three dynamic enemies nearly all at once, and even in the thematic heydey of the eighth and ninth centuries, fighting on two frontiers was very difficult. That the empire of the late eleventh managed to beat off all three without being completely destroyed is testament to its internal structures perhaps being more intact than we have typically given it credit for. That said, the combination of the Normans, Turks, and Pechenegs came very close to knocking the whole thing over, but they didn't.

However, I also found here a theory that decline of the Empire was a result of Medieval Warm Period, which caused a decline in the agriculture of Asia Minor, and that Basil II attempted expansion was to adress that concern. This theory actually makes sense, and I recall reading something similar to that effect; are there any good works covering it?
I'm afraid that I simply cannot agree with that. The economic and archaeological evidence for Asia Minor is unequivocal: the eleventh and twelfth centuries were a boom time in Asia Minor for Byzantium, and it continued well into the thirteenth. Part of the fiscal crisis that comes around by the later eleventh century is due in part to the quantity of available coinage being insufficient to match the number of people who wish to use it. Demography and economic activity were on an upswing. Harvey's study on this period doesn't use much environmental data (it was published in 1990) but it holds up today. The medieval warm period benefited Byzantium just as it did the west.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Picard and Futurist

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,321
SoCal
This narrative has too much of Psellos in it for my taste, in which individuals dictate the empire's fortunes. From the perspective of Constantinople in the 1040s or so, there was no need for the troops from the themata - the tagmatic and doukate soldiers were an effective, well-oiled machine. No one could have predicted the sudden arrival of three dynamic enemies nearly all at once, and even in the thematic heydey of the eighth and ninth centuries, fighting on two frontiers was very difficult. That the empire of the late eleventh managed to beat off all three without being completely destroyed is testament to its internal structures perhaps being more intact than we have typically given it credit for. That said, the combination of the Normans, Turks, and Pechenegs came very close to knocking the whole thing over, but they didn't.
What effects do you think it would have had on the history of the region and elsewhere if the Byzantine Empire would have indeed collapsed and been conquered in the late 11th century?
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,972
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
How "doomed" was the "Byzantine" empire in 1000, or 1100, or 1200, or 1300, or 1400?

When did its decline become irreversible?

It is certainly possible that the decline of the "Byzantine" empire didn't become irreversible until sometime about 1340 or so. If the decline became irreversible that late, then the person - if anyone - to blame would not be anyone as early as, for example, Basil II.

This paper indicates that the future was still in flux as late as about 1300 or so and that the decline only became irreversible at a later date. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/210243853_Complex_historical_dynamics_of_crisis_the_case_of_Byzantium
 
  • Like
Reactions: Picard

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,717
How "doomed" was the "Byzantine" empire in 1000, or 1100, or 1200, or 1300, or 1400?

When did its decline become irreversible?

It is certainly possible that the decline of the "Byzantine" empire didn't become irreversible until sometime about 1340 or so. If the decline became irreversible that late, then the person - if anyone - to blame would not be anyone as early as, for example, Basil II.

This paper indicates that the future was still in flux as late as about 1300 or so and that the decline only became irreversible at a later date. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/210243853_Complex_historical_dynamics_of_crisis_the_case_of_Byzantium
That paper is strongly based on the conclusion that tax revenues in 1321 put Byzantines on part with other large Europe states but doesn't account the one time revenues that Andronikos II raised by land seizures and trials which was not ongoing and in fact it is noted that the Justice courts soon ceased their activity and revenues fell- the part they leave out is the activity fell because so many landowners were tried and it was impossible to continue raising those revenues from a small base. Byzantines had no method nor takers for public debt and also no lenders to default against. England ruined Florentine lenders and seized the assets of expelled Jews while France ruined the Templars and also seized the assets of expelled Jews. During that period when the English and French states were solidifying their financial assets Byzantium was struggling to survive and unite Nicea with Constantinople. Similarly, the Kingdom of Sicily fragmented as did Hungry for a time following the Mongol invasions while the Crusaders and Mongols relieved some pressure on Byzantines allowing Nicea to reconstitute itself with the help of Genoa's ongoing rivalry with Venice.

1340 is simply too late- the state was already far behind its rivals by 1260 and the loss of Anatolian territories of the Empire of Nicea sealed Byzantium's fate. If we look at the weakened state of Nicea compared to the larger Byzantine Empire of 1200 then the loss of Constantinople and even more importantly the tax base and revenues of most of Greece to Venice was probably the actual fatal blow, it just took the Greek state a further century to be chewed up by its neighbouring rivals.

Aside from the territorial losses the take over of trade by Venice with the Greek territories and Genoa with the Crimea trade left Constantinople reliant on mostly agricultural production with the notable except of mastic compared to earlier state monopolies on silk, spices, salt, and beeswax as well full customs control of shipborne trade that sailed thru Byzantine ports.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Picard
Oct 2011
482
Croatia
There is also the Golden Bule given to Venice in 1082., which essentially opened the path to Venetian domination of the Mediterranean.