Why was the Byzantine Empire unable to hold onto the conquests of John Tzimiskes after his death in 976?

Futurist

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May 2014
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#1
Why was the Byzantine Empire unable to hold onto the conquests of John Tzimiskes after his death. According to this article, he was able to conquer territories all of the way from Anatolia to Palestine (albeit not Jerusalem):

Syrian campaigns of John Tzimiskes - Wikipedia

However, his conquests didn't actually become permanent and instead were presumably squandered after his death by his successors--to the point that no Byzantine Empire ever actually made another expansionist attempt into Palestine. Why exactly was this the case?

@Kirialax @JeanDukeofAlecon @DiocletianIsBetterThanYou Any thoughts on this? Also, what do you think would have happened had John Tzimiskes lived much longer?
 

Futurist

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May 2014
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#2
Here's a map of the Byzantine Empire in 975, for the record:



Now compare it with a map of the Byzantine Empire at the death of Basill II in 1025 (fifty years later):



Basil II was a very strong and powerful Byzantine Emperor but he never actually managed to do what John Tzimiskes did and expand all of the way south to Palestine.
 
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Kirialax

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Dec 2009
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#3
The first problem here is that the Wiki article only cites Julian Romane. Now I haven't actually read that book, but he's not a scholar in the field, and Pen&Sword is not the most discerning press.

We tend to associate Nikephoros II Phokas, John I Tzimiskes, and Basil II with conquest, and it's true that Byzantium reached its territorial height based on their efforts. But these conquests are not even, and not all of their campaigns are based around it. Phokas' goal seems to have been to break the threat of Hamdanid Aleppo by pushing east, but Tzimiskes was then forced to spend almost his entire reign putting out fires that Phokas had started. Tzimiskes' grand eastern campaign was unlikely one of conquest, but rather the usual marching around and taking some cities and fortresses to keep the Hamdanids and Fatimids in line so that Antioch remained secure. This particular campaign has been blown out of all proportion by a letter included in the Armenian historian Matthew of Edessa. The letter was probably originally Greek, but it was propaganda, not history, and grossly exaggerated John's accomplishments and intentions. The letter's claim that "all Phoenicia and Palestine and Syria have been freed from captivity by the Muslims and have accepted Roman sovereignty," simply does not match any of the other historical sources. The real campaign probably had much more limited objectives: march around Syria to intimidate the locals into not supporting the Hamdanids or Fatimids, and break a few heads to prove that the Romans were serious.

In general, you want to see:
Walker, Paul. “The `Crusade’ of John Tzimisces in the Light of New Arabic Evidence.” Byzantion 42 (1977): 301–27.
Andrews, Tara. Mattʿēos Uṙhayecʿi and His Chronicle: History as Apocalypse in a Crossroads of Cultures. Leiden: Brill, 2016., 82-3.

The question we should be asking is what happened to Tzimiskes' other conquest? After driving the Rus' out of Bulgaria, Tzimiskes dethroned the Bulgar king, declared it annexed, and made some moves to establish an administration. Yet we know how that turned out, given that Basil II spent decades fighting there.

As for why they never made an effort to expand into Palestine, I'd say that it's simply too exposed. As Garth Fowden (Empire to Commonwealth, 17-18) notes, the Fertile Crescent is exposed to its neighbours, who reside behind mountains, in this case the Tauros and the Zagros. But that same level of exposure threatens outside interests in the region. It's too far from Constantinople, and too exposed to local powers, as well as the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Fatimids in Egypt.
 

Futurist

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#4
I'll try finding those articles! Are they available online?

Also, how far south do you think that John actually went?

As for why they never made an effort to expand into Palestine, I'd say that it's simply too exposed. As Garth Fowden (Empire to Commonwealth, 17-18) notes, the Fertile Crescent is exposed to its neighbours, who reside behind mountains, in this case the Tauros and the Zagros. But that same level of exposure threatens outside interests in the region. It's too far from Constantinople, and too exposed to local powers, as well as the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Fatimids in Egypt.
The Crusader states largely managed to survive for 200 years in spite of being exposed, though.
 

Kirialax

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Dec 2009
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Blachernai
#5
Also, how far south do you think that John actually went?
Pretty far, I think. It's just the conquest bits that have been exaggerated.

The Crusader states largely managed to survive for 200 years in spite of being exposed, though.
With a highly militarized society and constant investment in defensive infrastructure.
 
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Futurist

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#6
Pretty far, I think. It's just the conquest bits that have been exaggerated.
So, it would be like the Crusaders if the Crusaders would have been uninterested in actually conquering territories but instead merely desired to punish Muslims with a punitive expedition?

With a highly militarized society and constant investment in defensive infrastructure.
Wasn't this also true for the Byzantines, though?