1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > Greek History: Period of Greek Revival: from Constantine the Great to Leo III (the Isaurian), 323-716 A.D.

(Part 11)



II: Period of Greek Revival: from Constantine the Great to Leo III (the Isaurian), 323-716 A.D.

The principal events of the first half of this period, the two centuries which intervened between Constantine and Justinian, are—the foundation of Constantinople (330 A.D). ; the emperor Julian's attempted restoration of Paganism (361) ; the defeat of Valens by the Goths near Adrianople, and his death (378); the establishment of Christianity by Theodosius the Great as the religion of the empire (388) ; the partition of the Roman empire between Arcadius and Honorius (395); the publication of the Theodosian code (438) ; and the extinction of the empire of the West (476). The reign of Justinian (527-565) comprises the great campaigns of Belisarius and Narses, whereby the kingdom of the Vandals in Africa was overthrown, and Sicily, Italy, and southern Spain were recovered to the Roman empire, the Greek possessions in Italy being henceforth governed by an exarch, who resided at Ravenna; the building of the church of St Sophia at Constantinople; and the reformation of the Roman law. Finally, in the century and a half between Justinian's death and the accession of Leo III., occurred the birth of Mahomet (571) ; the victori-ous expeditions of Heraclius against the Persians (622-8); and the seven years' siege of Constantinople by the Saracens in the reign of Constantine Pogonatus (668-675).
The reforms effected by Constantine formed one of the Reforms greatest revolutions the world has ever seen, and his sagacity of Con-is shown by the completeness with which they were carried stantlne out, and by the permanence of their effects, for from them proceeded both the strength and the injuriousness of the Byzantine system, which lasted even to the latest days of the empire. To describe them in brief,—he centralized the executive power in the emperor, and constituted a bureau-cracy for the administration of public business; he consoli-dated the dispensation of justice throughout his dominions ; he rendered the military power, which had hitherto been the terror and bane of the state, subservient to the civil power; he adopted a new religion, and established a new capital. Henceforth the world was ruled by the emperor and his household, and this administration was wholly irre-sponsible ; and as the interests of the Government were un-connected with those of any nationality and any class of its subjects, there was sure to be a continual struggle between the rulers and those whom they governed. In order that the emperor might be regarded as a being of a different order from the people, he and his court were surrounded by lavish splendour; and in order to check the ever im-minent danger of rebellion through pretenders to the throne, the offices of the court were made magnificent prizes, so that ambitious persons might feel that advancement could be obtained by a safer method than civil war. But to meet these expenses, and at the same time to maintain a power-ful army, an elaborate system of taxation was necessary; taxation, in fact, came to be regarded as the first aim of j government, and the inhabitants of the empire were im-poverished for objects in which they had no direct concern. The principal instrument which Constantine used for en-forcing this was the Roman municipal system, and this he introduced into Greece, notwithstanding the existence of a national and traditional organization. According to this, each town, with the agricultural district in its neighbour-hood, was administered by an oligarchical senate called the curia, elected from among the landed proprietors ; by them the municipal officers were appointed, and the land-tax collected, for the amount of which they were made respon-sible ; while those who did not possess land, such as merchants and artisans, paid the capitation tax, and formed an inferior class. As wealth declined, the oppressiveness of Evils of this system was more and more felt, especially as the private hi a sys-property of members of the curia was confiscated when thetem-required amount was not forthcoming; and hence, in order to prevent a further diminution of the revenue, an elaborate caste-system was subsequently introduced, which fixed the condition of every class, and required a son to follow the calling of his father, lest the number of persons liable to a certain kind of taxation should decrease. With the same view, the free rural population came to be tied to the soil, to prevent the ground from falling out of cultivation. Since, however, it was foreseen that such a system would produce discontent, the people everywhere were carefully disarmed, and the possession of arms was made a thing apart, the military class being separated from all others. For the same reason barbarians were much used as troops, because they could have no sympathy with the citizens. The harshness of this system caused general poverty, and deep-seated hatred of the central government, often resulting in a dis-position to call in the barbarians; while its jealousy was 1 the origin of the weakness of the empire, because the pro-

vinckls, who were really stronger than their invaders, were never allowed to defend themselves. In the West it contri-buted greatly to the overthrow of the empire, and in the East it repressed the spirit of Hellenic life by interfering with the ancient city communities ; and though the force of the Greek character, and the social condition of the countries they inhabited, saved them from destruction, yet, as we look down the long vista of succeeding ages, we may see its baneful effects producing ever-increasing misery. Its merits. Yet we must not overlook the strong points of Constan-tine's system. The first of these was the regular adminis-tration of justice which he introduced. This the inhabi-tants of the empire felt they could not obtain elsewhere, and the possession of it reconciled them to many otherwise intolerable grievances. So conscious were succeeding emperors of this that we find strictness observed in this matter until quite a late age of the Byzantine empire. Another was the amount of ability and experience which it secured for the public service. We have called the adminis-trators of public affairs a bureaucracy, and the household of the emperor, but they were not the less a body of most highly trained officials, thoroughly organized in their various services. Each department of the state formed a profession of itself, as completely subdivided, and requiring as special an education, as the legal profession at the present day. The perfection of this machinery accounts for the empire not having fallen to pieces in times of internal dissension, sometimes accompanied by foreign invasion; and the facilities it afforded for developing talent are seen in the long succession of able administrators which the system pro-duced, and which came to an end at the commencement of the 11th century, when it began to be disused. And besides this, though the rigorously oppressive taxation was injudicious as well as injurious, yet it may be doubted whether any other system than the high-handed centralization which has been described could have prevented dissolu-tion. Its force is certainly proved by its vitality, and the first great dismemberment in particular was brought about, not by internal causes, but by the power of the Saracens. Constan- The choice of the site of New Rome—which is perhaps tinople. the finest position in the world, as it commands the meeting-point of two great seas and two great continents, and rises in seven hills on its triangular promontory between the Pro-pontis and its land-locked harbour the Golden Horn—is an additional proof of the penetration of Constantine; and the event justified his selection, for on numerous occasions no-thing else than the impregnability of the seat of government could have saved the empire from destruction. Though the establishment of a new capital was in itself a consummate stroke of genius, yet to some extent it was forced upon the emperor by his conversion to Christianity, for this placed him in direct antagonism to Old Rome, which was still the head-quarters of paganism. And whatever might be the feelings of the people, on the part of the administrators themselves the prepossessions to be overcome in deciding on such a change were less than might be supposed, for the govern-ment, absorbed as it was in the unceasing care of maintain-ing and defending the empire, had long ceased to be Roman in its sympathies, and had become cosmopolitan. The new city at the time of its foundation was Roman : its senators were transported thither from Rome; the language of the court was Latin; and the condition of the lower classes was assimilated to that of the old capital by their being exempted from taxation and supported by distribu-tions of grain. But from the first it was destined to become Greek ; for the Greeks, who now began to call themselves Romans, an appellation which they have ever since retained, held fast to their language, manners, and prejudices, while they availed themselves to the full of their rights as Roman citizens. Hence, in Justinian's time, we find all the highest offices in the hands of Greeks—not Hellenic Greeks, but a Grseco-Roman caste, the descendants of the Macedonian conquerors of Asia ; and Greek was the prevailing language. The turning-point in this respect was the separation of the East and West in the time of Arcadius and Honorius. Still the Roman system remained permanent, especially in the community of interest created between the emperors and the populace by the largesses and the expenditure on public amusements, the money for which was drained from the provinces; and this fact explains the antagonism that remained between the provincials and the inhabitants of the capital, and the toleration which the latter showed of the tyranny of their rulers. How deeply these abuses were rooted in the city of Constantinople is shown by the circum-stance that Heraclius, in despair of otherwise carrying out his schemes of retrenchment and reform, conceived the design of removing the seat of government to Carthage—a plan which he would have carried out had he not been pre-vented by the unanimous opposition of the Greeks.

Whether the conversion of Constantine to Christianity The was due to sincere belief or to policy, or, as is perhaps most Greek likely, to a combination of the two motives, there can be no clmrcl doubt that religion had before that time obtained a great in-fluence over the Greeks, and that the cause of the Christian Church and that of the Greek nation were already closely interwoven. Nothing could show more clearly the mastery obtained by the new faith than the subsequent failure of the emperor Julian to revive paganism. We have already seen how life and energy were restored to Greek society by this influence before the end of the 3d century; it was also the unanimity with which it was adopted by that people which inspired them to combine in self-defence, and saved them from the fate of the disunited Western empire. From that early period dates the feeling of brotherhood which pervaded the Greek Church, and the strong attachment which has always existed between the Greek clergy and their flocks, further cemented as it was at a later period by the influence which the clergy exercised in maintaining the people's rights and defending them against aggression. Paganism, however, continued to be recognized until the time of Theodosius the Great, when Christianity was substituted for it by legislative enactments. But the orthodoxy of the Eastern Church, which came to be, and still is, its most distinctive feature, and the identification of the Orthodox Church with the Greek nation, dates from a different time, viz., from the reigns of the Arian successors of Constantine, to whose personal opinions the people were o strongly opposed. The political effect of this union ulti-mately became very great, and resulted in the loss of im-portant provinces to the empire. When the Orthodox had the upper hand, they soon began to clamour for the perse-cution of heretics, and the emperors being on the same side acceded to their demand. The natural effect of this was disaffection in those regions, such as Syria and Egypt, where the majority of the population were either Nestorians or Eutychians; and the evil was aggravated by the suspicion to which the provincial clergy were exposed, because they were not Greeks, of being heterodox. The alienation from the central government thus produced greatly facilitated the conquest of those countries by the Saracens. It should also be noted that from the time of Constantine the emperors claimed, and were acknowledged, to be supreme over the church in all civil and external matters'—a power which, as we shall see, proved to be of great importance at the time of the iconoclastic controversy; and the extensive judicial and administrative authority which Theodosius conferred on the bishops was the origin of that political subserviency, and at the same time of those simoniacal practices, which have been the opprobrium of their order in the Eastern Church.

Reign of The reign of Justinian, which, from the important events I Justmian which it contained, has naturally much attracted the notice of historians, was a period of false brilliancy. The char-acter of that emperor in many respects resembles that of Louis XIV. Both were men of moderate ability, gifted with great industry and application to business, and with a remarkable power of employing the talents of others; both were fond of splendour and foreign conquest; and both impoverished and ruined their subjects. At the time of his accession Justinian found in the exchequer a large sum of money amassed by Anastasius I., and had he employed this in lightening taxation and improving the position of his subjects, instead of wasting it in wars of his own seek-ing and lavish expenditure on public buildings, he would have greatly strengthened his kingdom. No doubt the conquests of his generals were splendid, and testify to the greatness of the armies of the empire at this time. No doubt also the compilation of the Pandects, Code, and Institutes was a magnificent work, which has left indelible traces on the legal systems of Europe. And it is an honour to any age to have developed the Byzantine style of archi-tecture, a style thoroughly Greek in its unity and propor-tion ; for, whereas the Bomans had borrowed the ancient Greek style, and, adding to it the arch, had used it for wholly incongruous purposes, the Greeks in turn appropri-ated the arch and dome, and created a new and harmonious style. But the effects of his reign on his dominions were ruinous. He riveted tighter the fetters which Constantine had invented, but he lacked the penetration of Constantine in perceiving the needs of his time. He dissolved the pro-vincial militia, which to some extent still existed in Greece. The population were ground down by taxation, the revenues of the free cities in Greece were seized, and at last the fortifications fell into disrepair, and a great part of the army was disbanded, so that when Zabergan, king of the Kutigur Huns, invaded the country from the north in the year 559, he was able to approach within 17 miles of Con-stantinople. How great the demoralization was is shown by the state of the empire under Justinian's immediate successors. Within less than twenty years after his death the conviction of a great change impending was so widely spread that a story was rife that it was revealed to the emperor Tiberius II. in a dream that on account of his virtues the days of anarchy should not commence during his reign. The condition of things has been described as " universal political palsy." Barbarian The 400 years which elapsed between Constantine and invasions. Leo III. were the great period of the barbarian invasions.
The Goths, who, as we have seen, had overrun Greece in the latter half of the 3d century after their great defeat at Naissus (Nisch), were more or less kept in check, and became in some degree a civilized and Christian people in the country of Dacia, to the north of the Danube, which they had permanently occupied after the Roman colonies in that country were withdrawn by Aurelian. But in the reign of Valens, when the Huns were overrunning Europe, they were pressed onwards by those invaders, and occupied Moesia between the Danube and the Balkan, which province was peacefully ceded to them. It was only in consequence of treacherous treatment by the Romans that they afterwards entered the empire as enemies, and fought the campaign which ended in the defeat and death of that emperor (378). They were again checked by Theodosius, and persuaded to enlist in great numbers in the imperial service; but during the reign of his successor Arcadius, the famous Alaric roused the spirit of his countrymen, and ravaged the whole of Greece even to the Peloponnesus (395), before he turned his thoughts to the invasion of Italy For a time both Goths and Romans were the victims of Attila, who with his hordes of Hnns swept over the lands south of the Danube (442-7), and was only induced to retire by an agreement on the part of Theodosius II. to pay him an annual tribute. But again, in the reign of Zeno (475), the empire was in imminent danger from the Goths under Theodoric, who, like Alaric, had lived at Constantinople, and like him also withdrew into Italy. Towards the beginning of the 6th century the Goths made way for more barbarous invaders, Bulgarians of Turanian origin, and various Slavonic tribes, for whose pastoral habits the now depopulated country was better suited than for a more civilized population. But they in turn were soon swallowed up by the Avars, whose vast monarchy occupied a great part of eastern Europe, and whose armies, in the time of Heraclius, threatened Constantinople itself. It was in order to impose a permanent check on that people that this emperor induced the Servians and Croatians to occupy the districts eastward of the Adriatic, Dalmatia and Illyricum, which were deserted, owing to their constant inroads. These Slavonic settlers paid allegiance to the empire, and as they formed agricultural communities, introduced an element of permanence into the country. The Avar power disappeared as suddenly as it had risen, and at the end of the 7th century its place is taken by the Bulgarian kingdom, which lasted for nearly 350 years, and was the great antagonist of the Byzantine empire in its most flourishing period. At the close of this long enumeration of invasions, we cannot help being astonished at the successful resistance that was offered to them. No doubt the conformation of the European provinces of the Eastern empire, with their successive mountain barriers, was a source of strength from the ease with which they could be defended; but this could hardly have saved the Greeks, had it not been for the number of their walled cities, their superiority in the art of war, the courage of the people when called out by circum-stances, and the strong position of the capital.
On the side of Asia, during the same period, a long Persian struggle was maintained with Persia. The dynasty of the wars> Sassanides, which arose on the ruins of the old Parthian kingdom, had raised that country to great power and pros-perity. The second in order of its princes, Sapor I,, had taken the emperor Valerian prisoner (257), and a cen-tury later Julian lost his life when fighting in Persia. The ill success of Justinian in his Persian wars ought fairly to be ascribed as much to the ability of his great opponent, Chosroes Nushirvan, as to his own shortcomings; but the fact remains that even Belisarius won small glory from those contests, and after a struggle of twenty years' dura-tion a treaty was concluded, which required the European monarch to pay an annual subsidy of thirty thousand pieces of gold. War, however, continued during the reigns of his successors Justin II. and Tiberius II., until an honourable peace was concluded by Maurice, the son-in-law of the last named emperor, at whose court Chosroes II., the rightful sovereign, had been received when he was an exile. This prince, when he was reinstated on his paternal throne, showed his gratitude to the Romans. But when Maurice was dethroned by the rebel Phocas, the Persian monarch declared war, professedly with the design of avenging his benefactor. The greater part of the Asiatic provinces were laid waste, and a Persian army was for a time encamped on the shores of the Bosphorus, so that it seemed as if the Roman empire was about to be conquered by Persia. From this it was saved by Heraclius, who was not only one of the ablest of the emperors, but one of the greatest of military leaders. He warded off the impending danger, and in seven campaigns, by a series of brilliant victories, dealt a deathblow to the Persian power. The struggle was unavoidable, and Heraclius, in entering upon it, was actuated by no vain desire of military renown ; but the effects of it were disas-

trous to the Romans also. The period when it occurred was that of the rise of the Saracens, and the exhaustion caused by it contributed in no slight degree to the exten-sion of their power. Condi- We turn now to the condition of the Greeks during this tion of period. In the interval between the first Gothic invasions lation1"1" ant* fcne accessi°n °f Constantine the material prosperity of Greece had increased, owing partly to the devastation of the provinces to the north of that country, the wealthy inhabi-tants of which were forced to take refuge in Greece, and partly to the insecurity of the Red Sea, Egypt, and Syria, which caused the commerce of Central Asia to take the route of the Black Sea, whence the trade of the Mediter-ranean passed once more into the hands of the Greeks. It can hardly be said that the reforms of Constantine benefited the population, because of the severe exactions they intro-duced ; for, as has been already mentioned, the rich were forced to supply from their own incomes any deficiency that might occur in their district, and by this means, before Justinian's time, the class of great landed proprietors had been extinguished. But the fixed position which the clergy and the lawyers obtained under Constantine's system was a general advantage, because this constitutional check modified the oppressiveness of the Government in its dealings with the people. In the case of the latter of these two orders the effect would have been greater, had not Latin been the language of legal business until after the time of Justinian. The period of 120 years between the death of Arcadius and that emperor's accession was a time of improvement. During the long reign of Theodosius II. the power was in the hands of his sister, the philanthropic Pulcheria, and of his ministers, and these seem to have ruled judiciously ; and the five succeeding emperors, Marcian, Leo I., Zeno the Isaurian, Anastasius, and Justin, were all men born in the middle or lower class of society, and of provincial origin, and had come to the throne at a mature age. The sympathy which they thus had with the body of their subjects accounts for their economy, and for their endeavours to restore the re-sources of the empire and alleviate its burdens, and generally to introduce regular forms of procedure into public business. Far different was the case with Justinian, whose severe demands for money distressed all classes of his subjects. Athens. But it was on Athens that h'.s hand was most heavily laid. That city was still a literary capital where Hellenic learning was cultivated; and if the Hero and Leander of Musaeus and that graceful pastoral romance, the Daphnis and Ghloe of Longus, are to be assigned to so late a date as the fifth century, the spirit of the ancient literature had not long been extinct among the Greeks. The ancient buildings still existed in all their splendour; the citizens lived a life of quiet, self-complacent ease; and the paganism, of which it was now the centre, had been purified from its vices by the maxims of philosophy and the influence of Christianity. It remained for Justinian, in his merciless centralization, to close its schools and confiscate their revenues. At the same time the Olympian games were brought to an end. From this time onward the inhabitants of Hellas are but little heard of, and at the beginning of the 8th century we find them spoken of by Byzantine writers under the contemp-tuous title of Helladici, while the Greek nation is represented by the population of Constantinople and Asia Minor. Yet this period was not wholly disadvantageous to Greece. As the danger from the invading barbarians increased, its citizens regained the power of using arms, and revived a municipal administration to direct their efforts. It was also in Justinian's reign that silkworms were introduced from China, and the manufacture of silk became a profitable source of revenue to Thebes and other towns.
One result of the financial legislation of this time was a change which, though the lawgivers certainly did not foresee it, was most beneficial in its effects. This was the gradual Extinc-extinction of slavery in the Eastern empire. The power tion of that effected this was not Christianity, for that religion had s^ery. recognized slavery as an institution, nor yet civilization, for that among the Greeks was intimately connected with the employment of slaves. It was rather produced by an alteration that was taking place in the condition of certain classes, which annihilated the distinction between the free-man and the slave. When the oppressiveness of taxation had destroyed the wealthy proprietors, and, in order to pre-vent the land from falling out of cultivation and thus diminishing the revenue, the cultivators of the land were tied to the soil, the poorer class of freemen began to sink down into the condition of serfs. On the other hand the slaves who were employed in agriculture became for the same reason an object of solicitude to the legislature, and their proprietors were forbidden to alienate them. They thus acquired a recognized position, not far removed from serfdom ; and when all the lower class were reduced to the same state of poverty, the difference in the political status of the two orders came to be obliterated. Many centuries elapsed before this change fully worked itself out. The slave trade was still an important branch of commerce in the Roman empire, and freemen were sold as slaves if they failed to pay their taxes; but henceforth the system was doomed to ultimate extinction. When we consider the ex-tent to which slavery prevailed in the ancient world, and the misery which it caused, we cannot regret the circum-stances which caused it to disappear, even though they were accompanied by much suffering.
It is important also to remark, now that we are The sys-approaching the period of change from ancient to modern tem> not society, that the decline of civilization in the later Roman tne , empire was not owing to degeneration in the people them- £t fault, selves, or to an inevitable downward tendency in highly civilized communities, It is a mistake to attribute to decay in human character changes that are clearly trace-able to the need of such external resources as are indispensable for its development. The prohibition to carry arms necessarily renders a people unwarlike. Where municipal institutions are discouraged, public opinion soon becomes powerless. When the resources which might be employed in constructing roads are withdrawn, communica-tion ceases, and with it the interchange of ideas and other influences by which the intellect is quickened. The degra-dation was produced by the injustice of the Government, which pillaged its subjects, and systematically destroyed all independence among them. Whenever the iron hand was removed, they showed signs of renewed life and vigour, but the strength of the central power was too great to encourage any hope of resisting it successfully. They had no choice but to sit down under it, and suffer it to drain their life-blood by slow degrees.

At the commencement of the 8th century the extinction Threat-of the empire of the East appeared to be imminent. The ened ex-same causes which had overthrown the Western empire were Q1"^1™ threatening it with destruction. The Saracens had overrun empire, all its Asiatic possessions, and had attacked the capital itself, while in Europe it was threatened by the Bulgarians. The provinces were falling off: Syria, Egypt, Africa, and the conquered provinces of Spain were wholly lost, and in Italy the dominions of the exarchate were greatly circum-scribed by the Lombards. At home rebellion prevailed in the army, and anarchy in the government, six emperors having been dethroned within the space of twenty-one years. It seemed as if the Greek race itself would be destroyed; in the countries conquered by the Saracens the Greeks were almost exterminated, and Greek civilization proscribed, while Hellas was threatened with occupation by the bar-barians. But at this moment the helm of the state was
seized by a man who, by his force of character and his great abilities, inaugurated a new state of things, and gave the empire a new lease of life. This man was Leo the Isaurian.

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