Posted by: ken98 | October 4, 2011

Emperors Cut To Pieces While Alive, Constantinople Sacked by Italians, Miraculous Faces Sent to Syrian Kings

Day 753 – Ken here (T)(10-4-2011)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.48,49 pp.80-90)(pages read: 2120)


No, not the pet from World of Warcraft - but the murky depths of rapidly scanned history which dissolves (in the hours ensuing after a marathon reading session) into a faintly-remembered aftertaste of Anti-Byzantine Prejudice

We end the long and sometimes evasive and murky chapter 48 – 600 years in 50 pages – and start the grab-bag of “Byazantine, Roman Issues” that Gibbon calls chapter 49.

It’s weird, I am strangely less and less irritated – I guess the non-stop, non-information that comprised chapter 48 WAS getting to me. With the start of ICON WORSHIP – the Great Controversy of the 700’s and 800’s that weakened the East, broke the Western Church away from the East and fired the imagination of Eastern Romans for centuries is starting up for us now.

As with all things, it started with an innocent idea – probably a child of the Muslim conquests (partially – in my opinion), since the coincidence of BREAKING ICONS (Icon-oclasm, Icon-breaking) took place exactly at the same time the Muslims were taking over major portions of the empire, AND it was strongest in Asia Minor (the FRONTIER between ISLAM and CHRISTIANITY) and weakest in Greece and the Balkans (the lands furthest away from Islam and closer to Papal Rome).

Anyways, we end with Andronicus’s FAMOUS DEATH, Isaac II Angelus, Alexios Angelus (whom Gibbon never even refers to, at this point he’s so tired of Byzantine rulers he just says “forget all the rest” and ends chapter 48 abruptly in a kind of fit of pique). Then onto Icons, the Image of Edessa (which may or may not be the Shroud of Turin) and more spiritual thoughts, theories, reminiscences by Gibbon.

The Story
Andronicus I Comnenus (1183-1185)
  • Andronicus is recalled from exile to the throne, Gibbon quotes fable that all emperors called back thus turn out to be tyrants
  • Gibbon gives mixed reviews – Andronicus is severe towards sales of offices, public officials thievery, pillaging of shipwrecked sailors, under him the provinces prosper and wickedness is punished
  • However, Andronicus is remorseless towards crime and is excessively cruel
  • Andronicus takes revenge on those who had exiled him, and on any other Comneni who would challenge his rule – he persecutes them in Nice, Prusa, Sicily, Cyprus – tohis credit there WERE appar many revolts
  • he finally goes after Isaac Angelus, a descendant of Alexis I (female line), Isaac slays his executioner, flees to St Sophia for sanctuary, rouses the mob, and they rise up against Andronicus
  • Andronicus suffers his FAMOUS DEATH (see below)

    Isaac II
    Angelus (1185-1195, 1203-1204)

  • GIBBON NOTES the sons of Andronicus took Trebizond (south shore of the Black Sea) and started that FABLED KINGDOM – his line became the GREAT COMNENI
  • GIBBON STOPS narrating the emperors at this point and flies on to 1204 and the Latin Conquest during the Fourth Crusade

    Alexios III Angelos
  • Alexios tries to hold the sagging Byz state together, after revolting and grabbing the throne
  • He is out-maneuvered by the Doge of Venice, who is besieging Constantinople, he flees
  • Isaac II Angelus (taken from prison) is put back on the throne
  • The city is taken in 1204, sacked, and a Latin/French state erected superficially on the remains of the Byzantine state

    Long Peroration on the Later Roman Empire by Gibbon
  • Gibbon justifies his VERY PERFUNCTORY review of the Later Roman Empire
  • Gibbon notes that in 600 years (Heraclius to Latin Conquest, 600-1204) there were 60 emperors, then (IN THE SPIRIT OF NUMBER-DROPPING, IT ALWAYS MAKES IT SEEM MORE AUTHORITATIVE if you can DROP A NUMBER) he notes Isaac Newton calculated the “NORMAL” reign of a monarch tends to be 18-20 years, as the Later Roman Empire apparently averaged 10 years per reign (600 yrs/60 emperors) – it is obviously DEGENERATE and Gibbon is JUSTIFIED in JETTING RIGHT THRU IT – FASCINATING as Spock would say – I’m sure if you did the 1st 600 years of the empire (0-600) and added up the emperors, you’d get a similar 10 year average – Gibbon is JUST TIRED OF IT ALL
  • On pg 83, Ch 48, he just gives up, like I said above, and doesn’t even describe the last 20 years of the empire before 1204 – FASCINATING again
  • Gibbon does a brief review of the Dynasties: Heraclian, Isaurian, Amorian, Basilian (we would say Macedonian), and Comnenian – and shows that despite the glories of being emperor, the likelihood is that being emperor is little more than an exercise in self-destruction, pain, anguish, and ultimately (often) a horrible death (poison, dismemberment, etc)
  • He then briefly seems to digress and wonder aloud, why, if being emperor (or even a king) is fraught with such disastrous effects – and takes the high road saying that NO, to a GOD, we are all mayflies and the glory we seek is dust and ashes and decay
  • IT IS ALSO OBVIOUS that this chapter HASN’t BEEN ABOUT HISTORY, it has been about PRINCES and KINGS and KINGSHIP
  • AND THEN HE MAKES A KIND OF SUMMARY STATEMENT – the empire lasted 1500 years, unbroken, longer than any other human political organization

    The Worship of Images – Overview
  • We start a new chapter – 49 – with the worship of images
  • Gibbon starts with other “Catholic Errors” and makes the usual Protestant cries of “FOUL” – transubstantiation, etc
  • He builds the case for Iconodules – Icon worshippers -literally icon-servers
  • Originally, Christians had no images – Jews forbade it, images smacked too much of Graeco-Roman Paganism
  • Then gradually the symbol of the cross, and the worship of Martyrs remains began – ie (this from PETER BROWN of The Making of Late Antiquity Fame) – spiritual power was considered a physical thing (like gravity – a fact of life) and was discovered to be pooled around martyrs remains and in holy men, and by association in symbols like the cross – later by easy inference, in the IMAGES of CHRIST, the VIRGIN MARY, and SAINTS
  • Gibbon notes that in ancient Rome IT WAS (and it’s true) normal to worship the Genius of an emperor – his personal guiding deity – obviously if a man were emperor, his personal deity – a kind of guardian angel – should be worshipped and encouraged – so Gibbon says it would be natural also to apply this logic to saints, Christ, Mary – a holdover of Paganism in the church
  • ALSO (and this is interesting to me) the CHRISTIAN CHURCH NEVER AGREED at first TO WORSHIP OF SCULPTURES of Christ, Saints – later in the Middle Ages, miraculous sculptures were common – but not now as a part of the ICON worship controversy

    The Image of Edessa (the Mandylion)
  • Gibbon starts Icon worship with the famous Image of Edessa
  • Supposedly (documented in a letter from Christ to Abgarus V, ruler of the Syriac Kingdom of Osroene at the time of Christ), Abgar was sent a perfect impression of Christ’s face impressed on a piece of linen (kind of like the shroud of Turin – which some believe is the long-lost Image of Edessa)
  • It is, to Gibbon, the idea of an image with miraculous powers and thus the precursor to icons


    Death of Andronicus - a grisly medieval depiction from the Bibliothèque Nationale

    Death of Andronicus - a grisly medieval depiction from the Bibliothèque Nationale, France. - Andronicus had a hard, but eventful life, and ended up tortured and cut into pieces by the citizenry who had so joyfully requested his return from exile 3 years before - an example to GIBBON of the TRANSIENCE and ULTIMATE WORTHLESSNESS of HUMAN GLORY - and in this case, who are we to disagree?


    The Famous Death of Andronicus


    From Umberto Eco’s Baudolino to Louis L’Amour’s, The Walking Drum – the death of Andronicus fascinates and enthralls. Gibbon is no exception.

    This from Gibbon (on Andronicus’s returning to Constantinople, astonished at the news that Isaac Angelus and others have questioned his rule):

    On the first alarm, he rushed to Constantinople, impatient for the blood of the guilty; but he was astonished by the silence of the palace, the tumult of the city, and the general desertion of mankind. Andronicus proclaimed a free pardon to his subjects; they neither desired, nor would grant, forgiveness; he offered to resign the crown to his son Manuel; but the virtues of the son could not expiate his father’s crimes.

    The sea was still open for his retreat; but the news of the revolution had flown along the coast; when fear had ceased, obedience was no more: the Imperial galley was pursued and taken by an armed brigantine; and the tyrant was dragged to the presence of Isaac Angelus, loaded with fetters, and a long chain round his neck. His eloquence, and the tears of his female companions, pleaded in vain for his life; but, instead of the decencies of a legal execution, the new monarch abandoned the criminal to the numerous sufferers, whom he had deprived of a father, a husband, or a friend.

    His teeth and hair, an eye and a hand, were torn from him, as a poor compensation for their loss: and a short respite was allowed, that he might feel the bitterness of death. Astride on a camel, without any danger of a rescue, he was carried through the city, and the basest of the populace rejoiced to trample on the fallen majesty of their prince. After a thousand blows and outrages, Andronicus was hung by the feet, between two pillars, that supported the statues of a wolf and an a sow; and every hand that could reach the public enemy, inflicted on his body some mark of ingenious or brutal cruelty, till two friendly or furious Italians, plunging their swords into his body, released him from all human punishment. In this long and painful agony, “Lord, have mercy upon me!” and “Why will you bruise a broken reed?” were the only words that escaped from his mouth. Our hatred for the tyrant is lost in pity for the man; nor can we blame his pusillanimous resignation, since a Greek Christian was no longer master of his life.

    (DEF III, Vol.5, Ch.48, pp.82-83)

    and this from WIKI:

    Andronikos seems then to have resolved to exterminate the aristocracy, and his plans were nearly successful. But on September 11, 1185, during his absence from the capital, Stephen Hagiochristophorites moved to arrest Isaac Angelos, whose loyalty was suspect. Isaac killed Hagiochristophorites and took refuge in the church of Hagia Sophia. He appealed to the populace, and a tumult arose which spread rapidly over the whole city.

    When Andronikos arrived he found that his authority was overthrown: Isaac had been proclaimed Emperor. The deposed Emperor attempted to escape in a boat with his wife Agnes and his mistress, but was captured (note that by some, Andronikos not only survived, but also managed to escape to the then self-proclaimed Kingdom of Cyprus). Isaac handed him over to the city mob and for three days he was exposed to their fury and resentment, remaining for that period tied to a post and beaten. His right hand was cut off, his teeth and hair were pulled out, one of his eyes was gouged out, and, among many other sufferings, boiling water was thrown in his face, punishment probably associated with his handsomeness and life of licentiousness. At last, led to the Hippodrome of Constantinople, he was hung up by the feet between two pillars, and two Latin soldiers competed as to whose sword would penetrate his body more deeply, and finally his body, according to the representation of his death, was torn apart. He died on September 12, 1185. At the news of the emperor’s death, his son and co-emperor John was murdered by his own troops in Thrace.

    (Andronicus on WIKI)

    As Gibbon would say – sic transit gloria – or more likely, Typical Byzantine Mess – esp since they were only a little over a decade away from losing the whole empire to the Italians (Venetians) due to a fight between 2 brothers for the throne, and an inability for Romans NOT TO UNDERESTIMATE barbarians (in this case, read: Venetians).


    Last Word…


    Icon of Christ Not-Made-By-Hands (a-cheiro-poietos) - from Novgorod

    Icon of Christ Not-Made-By-Hands (a-cheiro-poietos) - from Novgorod (Russian) - an example of the Image of Edessa (Gibbon's precursor of the whole CLASS of OBJECTS OF WORSHIP called ICONS) as an ICON itself

    The Image of Edessa (the Mandylion)
    Quotable Gibbon – Yet Another Example of Those Unscrupulous Lying Monks At Their Artistic Work Again! And Not Even Executed Well!



    The Image of Edessa had/has a long history (depending on whether you think the shroud of Turin is the Image of Edessa) – it was for a long time considered a sign from God that Edessa would never be taken by enemies of the empire – the Christian empire that is. Gibbon gives us a brief history:

    The image of Edessa.

    The merit and effect of a copy depends on its resemblance with the original; but the primitive Christians were ignorant of the genuine features of the Son of God, his mother, and his apostles: the statue of Christ at Paneas in Palestine was more probably that of some temporal saviour; the Gnostics and their profane monuments were reprobated; and the fancy of the Christian artists could only be guided by the clandestine imitation of some heathen model.

    In this distress, a bold and dexterous invention assured at once the likeness of the image and the innocence of the worship. A new super structure of fable was raised on the popular basis of a Syrian legend, on the correspondence of Christ and Abgarus, so famous in the days of Eusebius, so reluctantly deserted by our modern advocates.

    The bishop of Caesarea records the epistle, but he most strangely forgets the picture of Christ; the perfect impression of his face on a linen, with which he gratified the faith of the royal stranger who had invoked his healing power, and offered the strong city of Edessa to protect him against the malice of the Jews. The ignorance of the primitive church is explained by the long imprisonment of the image in a niche of the wall, from whence, after an oblivion of five hundred years, it was released by some prudent bishop, and seasonably presented to the devotion of the times.

    Its first and most glorious exploit was the deliverance of the city from the arms of Chosroes Nushirvan; and it was soon revered as a pledge of the divine promise, that Edessa should never be taken by a foreign enemy. It is true, indeed, that the text of Procopius ascribes the double deliverance of Edessa to the wealth and valour of her citizens, who purchased the absence and repelled the assaults of the Persian monarch. He was ignorant, the profane historian, of the testimony which he is compelled to deliver in the ecclesiastical page of Evagrius, that the Palladium was exposed on the rampart, and that the water which had been sprinkled on the holy face, instead of quenching, added new fuel to the flames of the besieged.

    After this important service, the image of Edessa was preserved with respect and gratitude; and if the Armenians rejected the legend, the more credulous Greeks adored the similitude, which was not the work of any mortal pencil, but the immediate creation of the divine original.

    The style and sentiments of a Byzantine hymn will declare how far their worship was removed from the grossest idolatry. “How can we with mortal eyes contemplate this image, whose celestial splendour the host of heaven presumes not to behold? He who dwells in heaven, condescends this day to visit us by his venerable image; He who is seated on the cherubim, visits us this day by a picture, which the Father has delineated with his immaculate hand, which he has formed in an ineffable manner, and which we sanctify by adoring it with fear and love.”

    Before the end of the sixth century, these images, made without hands, (in Greek it is a single word {a-cheiro-poietos, not-hand-made-KEN}, were propagated in the camps and cities of the Eastern empire: they were the objects of worship, and the instruments of miracles; and in the hour of danger or tumult, their venerable presence could revive the hope, rekindle the courage, or repress the fury, of the Roman legions.

    Its copies.

    Of these pictures, the far greater part, the transcripts of a human pencil, could only pretend to a secondary likeness and improper title: but there were some of higher descent, who derived their resemblance from an immediate contact with the original, endowed, for that purpose, with a miraculous and prolific virtue.

    The most ambitious aspired from a filial to a fraternal relation with the image of Edessa; and such is the veronica of Rome, or Spain, or Jerusalem, which Christ in his agony and bloody sweat applied to his face, and delivered to a holy matron. The fruitful precedent was speedily transferred to the Virgin Mary, and the saints and martyrs. In the church of Diospolis, in Palestine, the features of the Mother of God were deeply inscribed in a marble column; the East and West have been decorated by the pencil of St. Luke; and the Evangelist, who was perhaps a physician, has been forced to exercise the occupation of a painter, so profane and odious in the eyes of the primitive Christians. The Olympian Jove, created by the muse of Homer and the chisel of Phidias, might inspire a philosophic mind with momentary devotion; but these Catholic images were faintly and flatly delineated by monkish artists in the last degeneracy of taste and genius.

    (DEF III, Vol.5, Ch.49,p.90)

    Icon of King Abgar Holding the Image of Edessa

    Icon of King Abgar Holding the Image of Edessa (from the 900's after the victory of the Icon-worshippers in the East) (encaustic, 10th century, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai).

    Examples of Western copies of the now lost Image of Edessa - this is the Holy Face of Genoa

    Examples of Western copies of the now lost Image of Edessa - this is the Holy Face of Genoa

    Another example of a copy of the lost Image of Edessa -  from San Silvestro (Matilda chapel in the Vatican).

    Another example of a copy of the lost Image of Edessa - from San Silvestro (Matilda chapel in the Vatican).


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