Why did the Byzantine Empire engage in brutal punishments towards prominent figures?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
18,716
SoCal
#1
Why did the Byzantine Empire engage in brutal punishments towards prominent figures such as blinding and mutilation whereas Western Europe did not?
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,745
Blachernai
#4
In the old days, there were two answers to this: a mutilated prominent figure was considered physically imperfect, and thus incapable of taking the throne, and that these ideas seeped into the eastern Roman Empire from the Persians. The second idea is that mutilation is mercy - by not killing someone you give them the chance to repent and save their soul. This second idea was based mostly upon the use of the term philanthropia in the Ekloga, an eighth-century legal code that lays down a wide range of punishments that involve mutilation. This isn't entirely wrong, but the context is probably Biblical, especially Mt. 5:28-30 and influenced by ideas of physical separation from external pollution, something we see in contemporary thinking across the Mediterranean. The other aspect is that there was plenty of mutilation in the later Roman Empire, enough that Justinian sought to ban it. But there was a divide at that time - such humiliating punishments were reserved for the lower classes of society. That changes in the seventh and eighth centuries, both in the context of ideas of pollution and the imperial office stamping its authority on the law at a time when its credibility was shaken in the wake of defeat at the hands of Islam. It lets the emperor be seen as both equal in giving justice, and by not executing someone and giving them mercy, as part of the healing process before God. For all this, see Humphreys, Law, Power, and Imperial Ideology in the Iconoclast Era, c. 680-850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 123-5.

As for the whole not intact body thing disqualifying candidates for the throne, I have no idea. I've never seen a source explicity mention it, and it's worth noting that Justinian II came back and Isaakios Angelos' infirmities disqualified him but he also came back, so it wasn't an iron rule. Monastic or clerical retirement seems to have been more effective: Theodosios III, Romanos I Lakapenos, Isaakios I Komnenos, Konstantinos X Doukas, Michael VII Doukas, and Nikephoros III Botaneiates were all "retired" by usurpers who let them live out their natural lives.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
18,716
SoCal
#5
Thanks for this information, Kirialax! :)

Also, for what it's worth, I honestly don't consider blinding to be much better than death. Seriously.
 
Mar 2016
1,106
Australia
#7
Thanks for this information, Kirialax! :)

Also, for what it's worth, I honestly don't consider blinding to be much better than death. Seriously.
Depends on your situation. If you're wealthy and have a household to look after you it wouldn't be that bad, but if you were poor and had to rely on yourself, I agree it would be awful and make life not worth living.
 
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Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
5,098
Netherlands
#9
Why did the Byzantine Empire engage in brutal punishments towards prominent figures such as blinding and mutilation whereas Western Europe did not?
Read Gregory of Tours to have a real idea of brutal punishment, murder etc. Also look up where "coup de grace" originates.
 
Oct 2011
194
Croatia
#10
Why did the Byzantine Empire engage in brutal punishments towards prominent figures such as blinding and mutilation whereas Western Europe did not?
West also did it. Difference I think is that Byzantines had much greater regard for life: cutting off the nose, and then blinding, was seen a preferable alternative to murdering a deposed Emperor (or a rebel), as murder was seen as a major sin whereas blinding was considered "merely" cruel.
 
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