The limitanei or ripenses, meaning "the soldiers in frontier districts" or "the soldiers on the riverbank", were an important part of the late Roman and early Byzantine army after the reorganizations of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries. The limitanei, unlike the comitatenses and scolae, garrisoned fortifications along the borders of the Roman Empire and were not expected to fight far from their fortifications; the limitanei were lower-status and lower-paid than the comitatenses and palatini, the status distinction between scolae, palatini and limitanei had replaced the older distinction between praetorians and auxiliaries. The limitanei and palatini both included legionary units alongside auxiliary units; the nature of the limitanei changed between their introduction in the 3rd or 4th century and their disappearance in the 6th or 7th century. In the 4th century, the limitanei were professional soldiers, included both infantry and cavalry as well as river flotillas, but after the 5th century they were part-time soldiers, after the 6th century they were unpaid militia.
The role of the limitanei remains somewhat uncertain. Hugh Elton and Warren Treadgold suggest that, besides garrisoning fortifications along the frontier, they operated as border guards and customs police and to prevent small-scale raids, they may have driven off medium-scale attacks without the support of the field armies. Edward Luttwak saw their role as a key part in a strategy of defence-in-depth in combination with the provincial field armies. In the early 3rd century, the Roman military was organized into several provincial armies under the command of the provincial governors, a smaller reserve under the command of the emperor, guard units such as the Praetorian Guard, the urban cohorts. Field armies were temporary formations composed of the reserve and/or of detachments drawn from the provincial armies. In the 3rd century, due to the frequent wars, field armies could remain together for several years, under the direct command of the emperor, would require their own recruitment systems.
By the mid 4th century, the Roman military was divided into frontier armies under the command of the provincial duces and permanent field armies under the command of the emperor, the magistri peditum, magistri equitum, or comites. The frontier armies would oppose small-scale raids, they may have driven off medium-scale attacks without the support of the field armies. The frontier armies would be known as limitanei or ripenses; the field armies would respond to larger-scale attacks, would fight against rival emperors, would conduct any large-scale attacks into neighboring countries. The field armies would be known as comitatenses or palatini; the first known written reference to ripenses was in 325 and the first to limitanei was not until 363. Historians disagree on whether the emperor Diocletian, or one of his successors, such as Constantine I, split the Roman military into frontier armies and field armies. Theodor Mommsen, H. M. D. Parker, more Warren Treadgold and David S. Potter attribute the reorganization to Diocletian.
E. C. Nischer, D. van Berchem, more M. C. Bishop and J. C. N. Coulston attribute an expansion to Diocletian, the reorganization to Constantine I and his successors. Karl Strobel sees the reorganization as the culmination of trends going back well into the 3rd century, with Diocletian strengthening both the frontier and field armies; the division of the Roman Empire, the collapse of its western portion, the formation of the successor states means that the limitanei may have developed differently in the east and the west, or in different regions of the west. In the east, the emperor Justinian cancelled their pay. After this, the eastern limitanei were no longer professional soldiers, but continued to exist as militia through the Persian Wars and the Arab Conquest; the Arabic ajnad of Palestine, Jordan and Homs, may represent continuations of the commands of Palaestina, Arabia and Syria. In the west, the collapse of the empire cut off regular pay. Peter Heather notes an incident in the Life of St. Severinus, in Noricum in the 460s, where raiders had intercepted and cut down limitanei who were bringing their pay to the rest of their unit.
The limitanei represented the largest part of the late Roman Army. The eastern portion of the Notitia Dignitatum, from about 395, may count some 195,500 personnel in the frontier armies not counting the river flotillas, 104,000 in the field armies not counting the fleets, 3,500 in the palace guard; the western portion, from about 420, is harder to work with, because it has been unevenly edited, it omits some frontier provinces, it includes British provinces which were lost to the Empire. The size of the army, therefore of the limitanei, remains controversial. A. H. M. Jones and Warren Treadgold argue that the late Roman army was larger than earlier Roman armies, Treadgold estimates they had up to 645,000 troops. Karl Strobel denies this, Strobel estimates that the late Roman army had some 435,000 troops in the time of Diocletian and 450,000 in the time of Constantine I; the limitanei were under the command of the duces of their respective provinces. There were some exceptions, with comites commanding units of limitanei, with duces commanding units from two or more provinces.
The units of the limitanei included legiones of infantry divided between two bases and sometimes divided among more, numeri and cohortes of infantry, as well as vexillationes, equites and alae of cavalry. The size of
Empire of Thessalonica
Empire of Thessalonica is a historiographic term used by some modern scholars to refer to the short-lived Byzantine Greek state centred on the city of Thessalonica between 1224 and 1246 and ruled by the Komnenodoukas dynasty of Epirus. At the time of its establishment, the Empire of Thessalonica, under the capable Theodore Komnenos Doukas, rivaled the Empire of Nicaea and the Second Bulgarian Empire as the strongest state in the region, aspired to capturing Constantinople, putting an end to the Latin Empire, restoring the Byzantine Empire, extinguished in 1204. Thessalonica's ascendancy was brief, ending with the disastrous Battle of Klokotnitsa against Bulgaria in 1230, where Theodore Komnenos Doukas was captured. Reduced to a Bulgarian vassal, Theodore's brother and successor Manuel Komnenos Doukas was unable to prevent the loss of most of his brother's conquests in Macedonia and Thrace, while the original nucleus of the state, broke free under Michael II Komnenos Doukas. Theodore recovered Thessalonica in 1237, installing his son John Komnenos Doukas, after him Demetrios Angelos Doukas, as rulers of the city, while Manuel, with Nicaean support, seized Thessaly.
The rulers of Thessalonica bore the imperial title from 1225/7 until 1242, when they were forced to renounce it and recognize the suzerainty of the rival Empire of Nicaea. The Komnenodoukai continued to rule as Despots of Thessalonica for four more years after that, but in 1246 the city was annexed by Nicaea. After the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople in April 1204, the Byzantine Empire dissolved and was divided between the Crusader leaders and the Republic of Venice; the Latin Empire was set up in Constantinople itself, while most of northern and eastern mainland Greece went to the Kingdom of Thessalonica under Boniface of Montferrat. At the same time, two major native Byzantine Greek states emerged to challenge the Latins and claim the Byzantine inheritance, the so-called Empire of Nicaea under Theodore I Laskaris in Asia Minor, the so-called Despotate of Epirus in western Greece under Michael I Komnenos Doukas, while a third state, the so-called Empire of Trebizond, established a separate existence on the remote shores of the Pontus.
Michael I Komnenos Doukas soon extended his state into Thessaly, his successor Theodore Komnenos Doukas captured Thessalonica in 1224. The capture of Thessalonica, traditionally the second city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople, allowed Theodore to challenge the Nicaean claims on the Byzantine imperial title. With the support of the bishops of his domains, he was crowned emperor at Thessalonica by the Archbishop of Ohrid, Demetrios Chomatenos; the date is unknown, but has been placed either in 1225 or in 1227/8. Having declared his imperial ambitions, Theodore turned his gaze onto Constantinople. Only the Nicaean emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes, the Bulgarian emperor Ivan II Asen were strong enough to challenge him. In a bid to preempt Theodore, the Nicaeans seized Adrianople from the Latins in 1225, but Theodore marched into Thrace and forced the Nicaeans to leave their European possessions to him. Theodore was free to assault Constantinople, but for unknown reasons delayed this attack.
In the meantime, the Nicaeans and Latins had settled their differences, although formally allied with Theodore, Ivan II Asen entered talks for a dynastic alliance between the Latin Empire and Bulgaria. In 1230, Theodore marched against Constantinople, but unexpectedly turned his army north into Bulgaria instead. In the ensuing Battle of Klokotnitsa, Theodore's army was destroyed and he himself taken captive and blinded; this defeat abruptly diminished the power of Thessalonica. A state built upon rapid military expansion and relying on the ability of its ruler, its administration was unable to cope with defeat, its territories in Thrace, as well as most of Macedonia and Albania fell to the Bulgarians, who emerged as the strongest Balkan power. Theodore was succeeded by his brother Manuel Komnenos Doukas, he still controlled the environs of Thessalonica as well as the dynasty's lands in Thessaly and Epirus, but was forced to acknowledge himself Asen's vassal. In order to preserve some freedom of manoeuvre, Manuel turned to his brother's erstwhile rivals in Nicaea, offering to acknowledge the superiority of Vatatzes and the Patriarch of Constantinople, who resided in Nicaea.
Manuel was unable to prevent Michael II Komnenos Doukas, the bastard son of his older half-brother, Michael I, from returning from exile in the aftermath of Klokotnitsa and seizing control of Epirus, where he enjoyed considerable support. In the end Manuel was forced to accept the fait accompli, recognized Michael II as ruler of Epirus under his own suzerainty; as sign of this, he conferred on Michael the title of Despot. From the start, Manuel's suzerainty was rather theoretical, by 1236–37 Michael was acting as an independent ruler, seizing Corfu, issuing charters and concluding treaties in his own name. Manuel's rule lasted until 1237; the latter had been released from captivity and secretly returned to Thessalonica after John II Asen fell in love with and married his daughter Irene. Having been blinded, Theodore could not claim the throne for himself and crowned his son John Komnenos Doukas, but remained the actual power behind the throne and virtual regent. Manuel soon fled to Nicaea, where he pledged loyalty to Vatatzes.
Thus in 1239 Manuel was allowed to sail to Thessaly, where he began assembling an army to march on Thessalonica. After he captured Larissa, Theodore offered him a settlement, whereby he and his son would keep Thessalonica, Manuel would keep Thessaly, while another brother, Constant
Empire of Trebizond
The Empire of Trebizond or the Trapezuntine Empire was a monarchy and one of three successor rump states of the Byzantine Empire that flourished during the 13th through 15th centuries, consisting of the far northeastern corner of Anatolia and the southern Crimea. The empire was formed in 1204 after the Georgian expedition in Chaldia, commanded by Alexios Komnenos a few weeks before the sack of Constantinople. Alexios declared himself Emperor and established himself in Trebizond. Alexios and David Komnenos and last male descendants of deposed Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, pressed their claims as "Roman Emperors" against Byzantine Emperor Alexios V Doukas; the Byzantine emperors, as well as Byzantine authors, such as George Pachymeres, Nicephorus Gregoras and to some extent Trapezuntines such as John Lazaropoulos and Basilios Bessarion, regarded the emperors of Trebizond as the “princes of the Lazes”, while the possession of these "princes" was called Lazica, in other words, their state was known as the Principality of the Lazes.
Thus from the point of view of the Byzantine writers connected with the Laskaris and with the Palaiologos dynasties, the rulers of Trebizond were not emperors. After the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade overthrew Alexios V and established the Latin Empire, the Empire of Trebizond became one of three Byzantine successor states to claim the imperial throne, alongside the Empire of Nicaea under the Laskaris family and the Despotate of Epirus under a branch of the Angelos family; the ensuing wars would see the Empire of Thessalonica, the imperial government that sprung from Epirus, collapse following conflicts with Nicaea and Bulgaria and the final recapture of Constantinople by the Empire of Nicaea in 1261. Despite the Nicaean reconquest of Constantinople, the Emperors of Trebizond would continue to style themselves as "Roman Emperors" for decades and continued to press their claim on the Imperial throne. Emperor John II of Trebizond gave up the Trapezuntine claim to the Roman imperial title and Constantinople itself 11 years after the Nicaeans recaptured the city, altering his imperial title from "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans" to "Emperor and Autocrat of all the East and Perateia".
The Trapezuntine monarchy would survive the longest among the Byzantine successor states. The Despotate of Epirus had ceased to contest the Byzantine throne before the Nicaean reconquest and was occupied by the restored Byzantine Empire c. 1340, thereafter becoming a Serbian dependency inherited by Italians falling to the Ottoman Empire in 1479. Whilst the Empire of Nicaea had restored the Byzantine Empire through restoring control of the capital, it ended in 1453 with the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans. Trebizond would last until 1461 when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered it after a month-long siege and took its ruler and his family into captivity, marking the final end of the Roman imperial tradition initiated by Augustus 1,488 years previously; the Crimean Principality of Theodoro, an offshoot of Trebizond, lasted another 14 years, falling to the Ottomans in 1475. Trebizond had a long history of autonomous rule before it became the center of a small empire in the late middle ages.
Due to its natural harbours, defensible topography and access to silver and copper mines, Trebizond became the pre-eminent Greek colony on the eastern Black Sea shore soon after its founding. Its remoteness from Roman capitals gave local rules the opportunity to advance their own interest. In the centuries before the founding of the empire the city had been under control of the local Gabras family, which - while still remaining part of the Byzantine Empire - minted its own coin; the rulers of Trebizond called themselves Megas Komnenos and – like their counterparts in the other two Byzantine successor states, the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus – claimed supremacy as "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans." However, after Michael VIII Palaiologos of Nicaea recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the Komnenian use of the style "Emperor" became a sore point. In 1282, John II Komnenos stripped off his imperial regalia before the walls of Constantinople before entering to marry Michael's daughter and accept his legal title of despot.
However, his successors used a version of his title, "Emperor and Autocrat of the entire East, of the Iberians and the Perateia" until the Empire's end in 1461. Geographically, the Empire of Trebizond consisted of the narrow strip along the southern coast of the Black Sea and the western half of the Pontic Alps, along with the Gazarian Perateia, or southern Crimea; the core of the empire was the southern Black Sea coast from the mouth of the Yeşilırmak river, a region known to the Trapezuntines as Limnia as far east as Chorokhi river, a region known as Lazia. Geography defined the southern border of this state: the Pontic Alps served as a barrier first to Seljuk Turks and to Turkoman marauders, whose predations were reduced to a volume that the emperors could cope with; this territory corresponds to an area comprising all or parts of the modern Turkish provinces of Sinop, Ordu, Trabzon, Bayburt, Gümüşhane and coastal parts of Artvin. In the 13th century, some experts believe the empire controlled the Gazarian Perateia, which included Cherson and Kerch on the Crimean peninsula.
David Komnenos, the younger brother of the first Emperor, expanded to the west, occupying firs
Basileus is a Greek term and title that has signified various types of monarchs in history. In the English-speaking world it is most understood to mean "king" or "emperor"; the title was used by sovereigns and other persons of authority in ancient Greece, the Byzantine emperors, the kings of modern Greece. The feminine forms are basileia, basilissa, or the archaic basilinna, meaning "queen" or "empress"; the etymology of basileus is unclear. The Mycenaean form was *gʷasileus, denoting some sort of court official or local chieftain, but not an actual king, its hypothetical earlier Proto-Greek form would be *gʷatileus. Most linguists assume that it is a non-Greek word, adopted by Bronze Age Greeks from a pre-existing linguistic Pre-Greek substrate of the Eastern Mediterranean. Schindler argues for an inner-Greek innovation of the -eus inflection type from Indo-European material rather than a Mediterranean loan; the first written instance of this word is found on the baked clay tablets discovered in excavations of Mycenaean palaces destroyed by fire.
The tablets are dated from the 15th century BC to the 11th century BC and are inscribed with the Linear B script, deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952 and corresponds to a early form of Greek. The word basileus is written as qa-si-re-u and its original meaning was "chieftain". Here the initial letter q- represents the PIE labiovelar consonant */gʷ/, transformed in Greek into /b/. Linear B uses the same glyph for /l/ and /r/, now uniformly written with a Latin "r" by convention. Linear B only depicts syllables of single vowel or consonant-vowel form, therefore the final -s is dropped altogether; the word can be contrasted with wanax, another word used more for "king" and meaning "High King" or "overlord". With the collapse of Mycenaean society, the position of wanax ceases to be mentioned, the basileis appear the topmost potentates in Greek society. In the works of Homer wanax appears, in the form ánax in descriptions of Zeus and of few human monarchs, most notably Agamemnon. Otherwise the term survived exclusively as a component in compound personal names and is still in use in Modern Greek in the description of the anáktoron/anáktora, i.e. of the royal palace.
The latter is the same word as wa-na-ka-te-ro, wanákteros, "of the wanax/king" or "belonging to the wanax/king", used in Linear B tablets to refer to various craftsmen serving the king, to things belonging or offered to the king. Most of the Greek leaders in Homer's works are described as basileís, conventionally rendered in English as "kings". However, a more accurate translation may be "princes" or "chieftains", which would better reflect conditions in Greek society in Homer's time, the roles ascribed to Homer's characters. Agamemnon tries to give orders to Achilles among many others, while another basileus serves as his charioteer, his will, however, is not to be automatically obeyed. In Homer the wanax is expected to rule over the other basileis by consensus rather than by coercion, why Achilles proudly and furiously rebels when he perceives that Agamemnon is unjustly bossing him around. A study by Robert Drews has demonstrated that at the apex of Geometric and Archaic Greek society, basileus does not automatically translate to "king".
In a number of places authority was exercised by a college of basileis drawn from a particular clan or group, the office had term limits. However, basileus could be applied to the hereditary leaders of "tribal" states, like those of the Arcadians and the Messenians, in which cases the term approximated the meaning of "king". According to pseudo-Archytas's treatise "On justice and law", quoted by Giorgio Agamben in State of Exception, Basileus is more adequately translated into "Sovereign" than into "king"; the reason for this is that it designates more the person of king than the office of king: the power of magistrates derives from their social functions or offices, whereas the sovereign derives his power from himself. Sovereigns have auctoritas. Pseudo-Archytas aimed at creating a theory of sovereignty enfranchised from laws, being itself the only source of legitimacy, he goes so far as qualifying the Basileus as nomos empsykhos, or "living law", the origin, according to Agamben, of the modern Führerprinzip and of Carl Schmitt's theories on dictatorship.
In classical times all Greek states had abolished the hereditary royal office in favor of democratic or oligarchic rule. Some exceptions existed, namely the two hereditary Kings of Sparta, the Kings of Syracuse, the Kings of Cyrene, the Kings of Macedon and of the Molossians in Epirus and Kings of Arcadian Orchomenus; the Greeks used the term to refer to various kings of "barbaric" tribes in Thrace and Illyria, as well as to the Achaemenid kings of Persia. The Persian king was referred to as Megas Basileus or Basileus Basileōn, a translation of the Persian title xšāyaθiya xšāyaθiyānām, or "the king". There was a cult of Zeus Basileus at Lebadeia. Aristotle distinguished the basileus, constrained by law, from
Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologos dynasty
The Byzantine Empire was ruled by the Palaiologos dynasty in the period between 1261 and 1453, from the restoration of Byzantine rule to Constantinople by the usurper Michael VIII Palaiologos following its recapture from the Latin Empire, founded after the Fourth Crusade, up to the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire. Together with the preceding Nicaean Empire and the contemporary Frankokratia, this period is known as the late Byzantine Empire. From the start, the régime faced numerous problems; the Turks of Asia Minor had since 1263 been raiding and expanding into Byzantine territory in Asia Minor. Anatolia, which had formed the heart of the shrinking empire, was systematically lost to numerous Turkic ghazis, whose raids evolved into conquering expeditions inspired by Islamic zeal, the prospect of economic gain, the desire to seek refuge from the Mongols after the disastrous Battle of Köse Dağ in 1243. With a decreasing source of food and manpower, the Palaiologoi were forced to fight on several fronts, most of them being Christian states: the Second Bulgarian Empire, the Serbian Empire, the remnants of the Latin Empire and the Knights Hospitaller.
The loss of land in the east to the Turks and in the west to the Bulgarians was complemented by two disastrous civil wars, the Black Death and the 1354 earthquake at Gallipoli, whose destruction and evacuation allowed the Turks to occupy it. By 1380, the Byzantine Empire consisted of the capital Constantinople and a few other isolated exclaves, which only nominally recognized the Emperor as their lord. Nonetheless, Byzantine diplomacy coupled with the adroit exploitation of internal divisions and external threats among their enemies, above all the invasion of Anatolia by Timur, allowed Byzantium to survive until 1453; the last remnants of the Byzantine Empire, the Despotate of the Morea and the Empire of Trebizond, fell shortly afterwards. However, the Palaiologan period witnessed a renewed flourishing in art and the letters, in what has been called the "Palaiologian Renaissance"; the migration of Byzantine scholars to the West helped to spark the Italian Renaissance. Following the Fourth Crusade, the Byzantine Empire had fractured into the Greek successor-states of Nicaea and Trebizond, with a multitude of Frankish and Latin possessions occupying the remainder, nominally subject to the Latin Emperors at Constantinople.
In addition, the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire allowed the Bulgarians, the Serbs and the various Turcoman emirates of Anatolia to make gains. Although Epirus was the strongest of the three Greek states, the Nicaeans were the ones who succeeded in taking back the city of Constantinople from the Latin Empire; the Nicaean Empire was successful in holding its own against its Seljuk opponents. At the Battle of Meander Valley, a Turkic force was repelled and an earlier assault on Nicaea led to the death of the Seljuk Sultan. In the west, the Latins were unable to expand into Anatolia. In 1261, the Empire of Nicaea was ruled by a boy of ten years. However, John IV was overshadowed by Michael VIII Palaiologos. Palaiologos was a leading noble of military standing and the main figure of the regency of John IV, who had used this role to propel himself to the throne, set the stage for his becoming sole Emperor of the restored Byzantine Empire. In 1261, while the bulk of the Latin Empire's military forces were absent from Constantinople, Byzantine General Alexios Strategopoulos used the opportunity to seize the city with 600 troops.
Thrace and Thessalonica had been taken by Nicaea in 1246. Following the capture of Constantinople, Michael ordered the blinding of John IV in December 1261, so as to become sole emperor; as a result, Patriarch Arsenios excommunicated Michael, but he was deposed and replaced by Joseph I. The Fourth Crusade and their successors, the Latin Empire, had done much to reduce Byzantium's finest city to an underpopulated wreck. Michael VIII began the task of restoring public buildings and defence works; the Hagia Sophia, horribly looted in the Crusade of 1204, was refurbished to Greek Orthodox tradition. The Kontoskalion harbour and the walls of Constantinople were all strengthened against a possible new expedition by the Latin West. Many hospitals, markets, baths and churches were built, some with private patronage. A new Mosque was built to compensate for the one burnt during the Fourth Crusade; these attempts were costly and crippling taxes were placed on the peasantry. Nonetheless, the city grew new diplomatic contacts, notably with the Mamelukes.
Both had common enemies. The Sultanate of Rum was in chaos and decentralized since the Mongol invasions in ca. 1240. As a result, the greatest threat to Byzantium was not the Muslims but their Christian counterparts in the West — Michael VIII knew that the Venetians and the Franks would no doubt launch another attempt to establish Latin rule in Constantinople; the situation became worse when Charles I of Anjou conquered Sicily from the Hohenstaufens in 1266. In 1267, Pope Clement IV arranged a pact, whereby Charles would receive land in the East in return for assisting a new military expedition to Constantinople. A delay on Charles' end meant that Michael VIII was given enough time to negotiate a union between the Church of Rome and that of Constantinople in 1274, thus removing papal support for an invasion of Constantinople. For Michael VIII, the new union was seen as a fake by the Clement's successor, Martin IV; the Greek Church was excommunicated, Charles was given renewed papal support for the
Digenes Akrites, known in folksongs as Digenes Akritas and transliterated as Digenis Akritis, is the most famous of the Acritic Songs. The epic details the life of the hero, whose epithet Digenes Akritas refers to his mixed Byzantine-Cappadocian Greek and Arab blood; the first part of the epic details the lives of his parents, how they met, how his father, an Emir, converted to Christianity after abducting and marrying Digenes' mother. The remainder of the epic discusses from a first-person point of view, Basil's acts of heroism on the Byzantine border; the Digenes Akrites is an extensive narrative text. No fewer than six manuscripts have been found dedicated to stories about him; the oldest two are the Escorial and Grottaferrata versions, from the names of the libraries in which the respective manuscripts are held. While the form in which it has survived is not the product of oral composition, it has retained a considerable number of features of its oral origins; the common core of the two versions preserved in the E and G manuscripts goes back to the twelfth century.
The text of E appears to be closer to the original composition while G represents a version, marked by learned reworking. Both texts give enchanting descriptions of the life of the martial societies of the border regions of the empire, while in the figure of Digenes are concentrated the legends that had accumulated around local heroes; the Escorial version is the superior of the two in respect of the power and immediacy of the battle scenes and austerity of style. The epic descriptions of the mounted knights and battles are marked by drama, a swift pace and lively visual detail; the Byzantine-Arab conflicts that lasted from the 7th century to the early 11th century provide the context for Byzantine heroic poetry written in the vernacular Greek language. The Akritai of the Byzantine Empire of this period were a military class responsible for safeguarding the frontier regions of the imperial territory from external enemies and freebooting adventurers who operated on the fringes of the empire.
The work comprises two parts. In the first, the "Lay of the Emir", which bears more the characteristics of epic poetry, an Arab emir invades Cappadocia and carries off the daughter of a Byzantine general; the emir agrees to convert to Christianity for the sake of the daughter and resettle in Romania together with his people. The issue of their union is Digenes Akritas; the second part of the work relates the development of the young hero and his superhuman feats of bravery and strength. As a boy, he goes hunting with his father and kills two bears unarmed, strangling the first to death and breaking the second one's spine, he tears a hind in half with his bare hands, slays a lion in the same manner. Like his father, he carries off the daughter of another Byzantine general and marries her. No one, not the amazingly strong female warrior Maximu, with whom he commits the sin of adultery, can match him. Having defeated all his enemies Digenes builds a luxurious palace by the Euphrates, where he ends his days peacefully.
Cypriot legend has it that he grabbed hold of the Pentadaktylos mountain range north of Nicosia in order to leap to Asia Minor. The mountain range, as the name suggests, resembles five knuckles sprouting from the ground; the tale of Digenes continued to be read and enjoyed in centuries, as the text survives in various versions dating to as late as the 17th century. The epic tale of Digenes Akritas corresponds in many ways to a cycle of much shorter Acritic songs from Asia Minor and Crete, some of which survive until the present day. In the tradition Digenes is defeated only by Death, in the figure of Thanatos/Charon, after fierce single combat on "the marble threshing floors". Thanatos had already wrestled with Heracles; the Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis has used this text as the basis for a portion of his "Constantinople". The story of Digenes Akritas, defeated by Death was used as a basis of a Russian bylina about Anika the Warrior; the Digenes Akritas is written in Early Demotic Greek and is composed in fifteen syllable blank verse.
Rhyming occurs rarely. The poem does not diverge from the standard political verse of popular Byzantine literature; each line holds its own and every hemistich is balanced. The poem flows, is cadential, with no cacophonies with scarce sound repetitions. Below is an excerpt from the translation of the Escorial manuscript, lines 32-55, by E. M. Jeffreys: Delhemma, the Arab analogue to the Akritic songs Cappadocian Greeks Karbeas Umar al-Aqta Daredevils of Sassoun Jeffreys, Elizabeth. Digenis Akritis: the Grottaferrata and Escorial Versions. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-39472-7. Mavrogordato, John. Digenes Akrites. Oxford, 1956; the Grottaferrata version with parallel English translation. Beaton and David Ricks. Digenes Akrites: New Approaches to Byzantine Heroic Poetry. Aldershot: King's College London, 1993. ISBN 0-86078-395-2. Articles by Magdalino, Jeffreys and others. Beaton, Roderick; the Medieval Greek Romance. London: CUP, 1996. ISBN 0-415-12032-2, 0415120330. Much improved 2nd ed. Good discussion of the Di
Byzantine Empire under the Justinian dynasty
The Byzantine Empire had its first golden age under the Justinian Dynasty, which began in 518 AD with the Accession of Justin I. Under the Justinian Dynasty the reign of Justinian I, the Empire reached its largest territorial point, reincorporating North Africa, southern Illyria, southern Spain, Italy into the Empire; the Justinian Dynasty ended in 602 with the deposition of Maurice and the ascension of his successor, Phocas. The Justinian Dynasty began with the accession of its namesake Justin I to the throne. Justin I was born in a small village, Bederiana, in the 450s AD. Like many country youths, he went to Constantinople and enlisted in the army, due to his physical abilities, he became a part of the Excubitors, the palace guards, he fought in the Isaurian and Persian wars, rose through the ranks to become the commander of the Excubitors, a influential position. In this time, he achieved the rank of senator. After the death of the Emperor Anastasius, who had left no clear heir, there was much dispute as to who would become emperor.
To decide who would ascend the throne, a grand meeting was called in the hippodrome. The Byzantine Senate, gathered in the great hall of the palace; as the senate wanted to avoid outside involvement and influence, they were pressed to select a candidate. Several candidates were rejected for various reasons. After much arguing, the senate chose to nominate Justin. Justin, from a Latin speaking province, spoke little Greek; as such, he surrounded himself with intelligent advisers, the most notable of, his nephew, Justinian. Justinian may have exerted great influence on his uncle, is considered by some historians, such as Procopius, to be the real power behind the throne. After his accession, Justin removed the other candidates to the throne. Unlike most emperors before him, who were Monophysite, Justin was a devout Orthodox Christian. Monophysites and the Orthodox were in conflict over the divinity of Jesus Christ. Past emperors had supported the Monophysites' position, in direct conflict with the Orthodox teachings of the Papacy, this strife led to the Acacian Schism.
Justin, as an Orthodox, the new patriarch, John of Cappadocia set about repairing relations with Rome. After delicate negotiations, the Acacian Schism ended in late March, 519. After this initial ecclesiastical overhaul, the rest of Justin's reign was quiet and peaceful. In 525 at the insistence of Justinian, Justin repealed a law which forbade court officials from marrying people of low class; this allowed Justinian to marry Theodora, of low social standing. In his last years, conflict increased around the Empire. There was increased strife with the Ostrogothic Kingdom in the Italian Peninsula, their king, Theodoric the Great, was suspicious of plots by the Byzantines. However, Theodoric died in 526; the Sasanian Empire resumed hostilities with the Byzantines, the Iberian War began in the east. In 527, Justin appointed Justinian co-emperor after becoming dangerously ill. Justin recovered from the illness, several months he died of an ulcer on an old wound; the strength of the dynasty was shown under Justinian I.
After the Nika Riots, Justinian rebuilt the city and reformed the law with the "Code of Justinian". Justinian had inherited a war with Persia from his uncle and previous emperor, Justin I. Justinian continued the war, succeeding in sending a force all the way down the Euphrates, but the raid stalled, he lost the beginnings of a new fortress in a crushing defeat; this impasse of sorts led to Justinian negotiating the "Eternal Peace" in which he agreed to pay eleven thousand pounds of gold in return for a cease in hostilities and the defense of several mountain passes. He set about satisfying his dream to rebuild the Roman Empire. On his command, his favored general, began reconquering old Roman territory, starting with the Vandals; the Vandals, after maintaining North African dominance since the fall of the Western Roman Empire, had become content and laid back. The Vandal king, attempted to surround the Byzantines at the battle of Ad Decimum. Belisarius rounded up his remaining men and broke the disorganized mass of Vandals, now poorly commanded.
Belisarius went on to capture Carthage, the Byzantines were victorious. Justinian recalled the victorious Belisarius. In Italy, dynastic squabbles amongst the ruling Ostrogoths gave Justinian an opportunity to invade, he sent Belisarius to Sicily with 7500 men. Belisarius received only token resistance, he moved on to mainland Italy. After putting down a mutiny in conquered North Africa, Belisarius landed in mainland Italy; the Gothic garrison of Naples resisted however, after several months siege, Belisarius sacked the city. After more ensuing dynastic squabbles, resulting in the deaths of two kings, Belisarius was invited to Rome by the pope while the king was in Ravenna. Hearing of this, the Gothic king, sent a huge