Day 746 – Ken here (T)(9-27-2011)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.48, pp.30-40)(pages read: 2070)
I have to say – IT’S VERY IRRITATING, this tumble-down-the-historical-hill, pell-mell, plummeting through centuries of history in a few pages. Irritating and distracting.
Not only are we FLYING through some of the most interesting and important (important because we stand at the beginning of things, the beginning of the Middle Ages which are the foundations of modern Europe and us), BUT, to add insult to injury, Gibbon is forced (at this time, in the 1780’s) to use sources that are monastic, biased in an obviously juvenile way towards the church and certain noble families/nations, and horribly sketchy and incomplete.
Knowing that he HAS to write SOMETHING, Gibbon repeats strange stories diligently recorded by pious monks – they’re interesting as WINDOWS INTO THE PSYCHE of Early Medieval European Man, but less helpful in plunging through 600 years of history in 50 pages. So we end up ignoring most of what he’s written.
Although, as always, it IS written BEAUTIFULLY.
Onwards through the Byzantine Dark Ages…
The tide of Arab conquest was turned, for the time being, although all the participants didn’t realize it at the time. Leo III the Isaurian, founder of his dynasty managed to turn back the 13 month SIEGE OF CONSTANTINOPLE – stopping, for the time being, Arab conquests in Eastern Europe and preserving the existence of the Roman Empire.
This siege was the first recorded use of the famous GREEK FIRE – a liquid that was pumped and shot out of a cannon (from boats in this case) that could not be put out by water. Its formula, although conjectured at in modern times, was never divulged to non-Romans, and since the Roman empire ceased to be sometime before the Latins took Constantinople in 1204, apparently, the secret disappeared with the Roman military.
this from Wiki about the Siege and the Isaurians:
Leo III the Isaurian, 717–741
Leo III, who would become the founder of the so-called Isaurian dynasty, was actually born in Germanikeia in northern Syria ca. 685; his alleged origin from Isauria derives from a reference in Theophanes the Confessor, which however may be a later addition. After being raised to spatharios by Justinian II, he fought the Arabs in Abasgia, and was appointed as strategos of the Anatolics by Anastasios II. Following the latter’s fall, in 716 Leo allied himself with Artabasdos, the general of the Armeniacs, and was proclaimed emperor while two Arab armies, one under the Caliph’s brother Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik, campaigned in Asia Minor. Leo averted an attack by Maslamah by clever negotiations, in which he promised to recognize the Caliph’s suzerainty, but on 25 March 717, he entered Constantinople and deposed Theodosios.
Arab siege of Constantinople and its aftermath
Within months, the new emperor faced his first great challenge, with a massive Muslim attack on the imperial capital: the Caliphate’s army and navy, led by Maslamah, numbered some 120,000 men and 1,800 ships according to the sources. Whatever the real number, it was a huge force, far larger than the imperial army. Thankfully for Leo and the Empire, Anastasios II had repaired and strengthened the capital’s sea walls. In addition, the emperor concluded an alliance with the Bulgar khan Tervel, who agreed to harass the invaders’ rear.
From July 717 to August 718, the city was besieged by land and sea by the Muslims, who built an extensive double line of circumvallation and contravallation on the landward side, isolating the capital. Their attempt to complete the blockade by sea however failed when the Byzantine navy employed Greek fire against them; the Arab fleet kept well off the city walls, leaving Constantinople’s supply routes open. Forced to extend the siege into winter, the besieging army suffered horrendous casualties from the cold and the lack of provisions. In spring, new reinforcements were sent by the new caliph, Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (r. 717–720), by sea from Africa and Egypt and over land through Asia Minor. The crews of the new fleets were composed mostly of Christians, who began defecting in large numbers, while the land forces were ambushed and defeated in Bithynia. As famine and an epidemic continued to plague the Arab camp, the siege was abandoned on 15 August 718. On its return, the Arab fleet suffered further casualties to storms and an eruption of the volcano of Thera.
Even during the siege, Leo had been able to stifle attempts at secession: his troops swiftly overthrew a revolt in Sicily, where a certain Basil Onomagoulos was declared emperor. In 719, he also weathered an attempt by the deposed Anastasios II to recover his throne with Bulgar help. Leo further strengthened his position by crowning his wife Maria as Augusta in 718 and his son Constantine as co-emperor in 720. Profiting from the weakened state of the Caliphate after the enormous losses they had suffered before Constantinople, Leo was able to launch a counter-offensive which achieved some success. The Arabs soon recovered however, and from 720 launched annual raids that devastated large parts of Asia Minor, despite a Byzantine alliance with the Khazars, who launched attacks on the Caliphate’s northern flank. Iconium and Caesarea were sacked, and Byzantine troops were again driven out of Armenia.
Irene Sarantapechaina (Greek: Ειρήνη Σαρανταπήχαινα), known as Irene of Athens or Irene the Athenian (Greek: Ειρήνη η Αθηναία) (c. 752 – August 9, 803) was a Byzantine empress regnant from 797 to 802, having previously been empress consort from 775 to 780, and empress mother and regent from 780 to 797. It is often claimed she called herself “basileus” (βασιλεύς), ’emperor’. In fact, she normally referred to herself as “basilissa” (βασίλισσα), ’empress’, although there are three instances of the title “basileus” being used by her.
Irene was born to a noble Greek family of Athens, the Sarantapechos family. Although she was an orphan, her uncle, Constantine Sarantapechos, was a patrician and possibly strategos of the theme of Hellas. She was brought to Constantinople by Emperor Constantine V on November 1, 769, and was married to his son Leo IV on December 17. Although she appears to have come from a noble family, there is no clear reason as to why she would have been chosen as Leo’s bride, leading some scholars to speculate that she was selected in a bride-show, in which eligible women were paraded before the bridegroom, until one was finally selected.
On January 14, 771, Irene gave birth to a son, the future Constantine VI. When Constantine V died in September 775, Leo was to succeed to the throne at the age of twenty-five years. Leo, though an iconoclast (opposed theologically to the veneration of icons), pursued a policy of moderation towards iconodules (those who venerated icons), but his policies became much harsher in August 780, when a number of courtiers were punished for icon-veneration. According to tradition, he discovered icons concealed among Irene’s possessions and refused to share the marriage bed with her thereafter. Nevertheless, when Leo died on September 8, 780, Irene became regent for their nine-year old Constantine.
Irene was almost immediately confronted with a conspiracy which she heard was to raise to the throne the Caesar Nikephoros, a half-brother of Leo IV. To overcome this challenge, she had Nikephoros and his co-conspirators ordained as priests, a status which disqualified them from ruling, and ordered them to administer Holy Communion on Christmas Day.
As early as 781, Irene began to seek a closer relationship with the Carolingian dynasty and the Papacy. She negotiated a marriage between her son and Rotrude, a daughter of Charlemagne by his third wife Hildegard. Irene went as far as to send an official to instruct the Frankish princess in Greek; however, Irene herself broke off the engagement in 787, against her son’s wishes.
Irene next had to subdue a rebellion led by Elpidius, the strategos of Sicily, whose family was tortured and imprisoned, while a fleet was sent, which succeeded in defeating the Sicilians. Elpidius fled to Africa, where he defected to the Arabs. After the success of Constantine V’s general, Michael Lachanodrakon, who foiled an Arab attack on the eastern frontiers, the strategos of the Bucellarian Theme, Tatzates, defected to the Arabs, but due to the failure of negotiations Irene had to agree to pay an annual tribute of 70 or 90,000 dinars to the Arabs for a three year truce, give them 10,000 silk garments and provide them with guides, provisions and access to markets during their withdrawal.
(from Irene of Athens – WIKI
After Heraclius, and the total defeat of Persia, and then the Near-Total Defeat of Rome (to the Arabs), the empire collapsed, condensed, and re-grouped. When it emerged it was something different – a different kind of animal – one that was organized on military lines, based on a soldier-farmer, could react quickly to raids, was much less top-heavy in bureacracy, but was still recognizably a very Roman, organized, civil state.
This wasn’t the 1st time Rome had re-invented herself – at the end of the Republic, when citizen-army civil wars were becoming an annual event, and Generals were ruling extra-legally, the Republic (under Augustus) became the empire, an overtly General-led, centrally organized, but very loosely held entity that lasted 300 years.
Later, when the Crisis of the 200’s and more civil wars ripped the empire apart, Diocletian nailed down the fabric of the Mediterranean empire that was Rome by imposing a huge top-down organization and bureaucracy that gave it form and substance and a new life for 300 or so years more.
Now we come to the post-Arab-Conquest, post-Slavic-Invasion Roman world. With much reduced income, taxes, etc the old pay-as-you-go mercenary armies wouldn’t work anymore, so during the 700’s a new citizen-army state emerged, gradually.