Origins of Intelligence Services
III. Byzantine Intelligence Service
1. Byzantine State Post
Innovations by Constantine and Constantius — Theodosius’s Measures — Functioning of the State Post — Deterioration under Justinian — Its Collapse in the West.
2. Secret Service and Police
The Agentes in Rebus as Military Corps — Messengers, Inspectors of the Post — Informants, Secret Agents — Organization of the Police in Egypt and Other Provinces — Police in the Capital and Main Cities.
3. Intelligence in the Border Lands and in Enemy Territory
Akritai, Their Duties and Organization — Fire Signal System, Achievement of Basil II — Byzantine Spies — Constantine V Betrayed by the Bulgar Khagan Tzeleric — Successful Byzantine Counter-espionage in 877 — A Secret Agent’s Message in 913.
4. Military Intelligence
Byzantine Standing Army — Provincial Army in the themato — Army Scouts — Naval Intelligence — Military Police — Intelligence on New Nations in Military Treatises.
5. Diplomatic Intelligence
Priscus’s Report on Hunnic Embassy-Persia, Byzantium, and Turcs, and the Control of the Silk Road to China — Cherson, Diplomatic and Information Outpost — Information Center in Constantinople, Reception of Foreign Embassies — Reports of Embassies from State Archives, Main Source of Porphyrogenitus’s Work on the Administration of the Empire.
1. Byzantine State Post
The Byzantine Empire, often regarded as the heir of the Roman Empire, was rather its continuation. This continuation was more evident at the time when new invasions deprived the empire of its flourishing provinces in the East and West, definitely breaking through the Roman limes, which had been defended successfully for centuries by the Roman Legions. Rome found it necessary to surrender her primacy and the privilege of being the residential city of the emperors to a new Rome on the shores of the Bosporus, named Constantinople after its founder Constantine the Great. Nevertheless, that city s inhabitants, and the population of the eastern provinces, continued to think of themselves as Romans, or “Romaioi” in their native Greek language.
It should also be stressed that from the time of Constantine, the empire developed along different religious lines, and the emperors regarded themselves as appointed by God, not only to reign, but also to protect and extend the Christian religion, now victorious over the pagan gods and over those principles which had prevailed in Rome and the western provinces. These two facts inaugurated a new period in the history of the Roman Empire. The old Roman institutions, laws, organization of the provinces, and military traditions continued, however, to live and to grow in the new eastern and Christian atmosphere of this new center, the old Greek city of Byzantium which had been elevated to be the new capital. From that time on the empire can rightly be called, after the name of its capital, the residence of the emperors, the Byzantine Empire, and its new political ideology Christian Hellenism.
In time, in this new environment in which these traditions were to evolve, unforeseen events brought changes in the defensive system and in the organization of the provinces. The Latin titles of the old Roman administration can often be discerned in the Greek names of the new offices. Of course, even the Byzantine Empire had need of the old Roman organizations to ensure the peaceful development of its citizens, and to protect itself against intrigue and hostile invasions from abroad. It is thus natural to suppose that the Christian emperors, residing in Byzantium, found it necessary to continue the development of an effective intelligence service.
The basis on which the successful administration of the Roman Empire at its zenith was built was the cursus publicus, or the state post. This organization also made the service of intelligence more effective.
No wonder, then, that the state post continued to function in the Byzantine Empire as it had in the Roman Empire.
But Constantine the Great introduced an important innovation when he extended the privilege of using it to bishops invited by him to the synods. Permission to travel at state expense was granted not only to Orthodox bishops, but also to schismatic prelates. The bishops invited to the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325) were similarly granted the privilege of travelling at the expense of the fisc. Of course, according to the Christianized Hellenistic concept of policy, the emperor, as representative of God, was responsible for ecclesiastical matters and therefore the use of the state post by the bishops was considered as being in the interests of the state.
During the reign of Constantius II (337-361), however, the frequent use of the state post by bishops whom the emperor invited from one Council to another became a great burden on the Treasury, and the pagan writer Ammianus Marcellinus complained bitterly about this misuse of state public services. Julian the Apostate (361-363) stopped it, although he himself did not hesitate to offer its use to St. Basil, with whom he had studied in Athens, when he invited him to visit his court.
The Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) restricted the use of the cursus even more and issued a series of laws, published m 438 in the Code of Theodosius II, which contained rules for the reorganization of the state post, to be used only by persons in the service of the state.
In spite of the restrictions ordered by Theodosius I. the use of the cursus was available also to people acquainted with the emperor, or with high functionaries at his court. Theodosius himself made it possible for his compatriot, the Spanish virgin Etheria, probably a family friend, to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Sinai by giving her the evectio for the use of the cursus. We owe to this gesture the first vivid account of a pilgrimage to Palestine, and a detailed description of the holy places, and of the interesting experiences which Etheria collected on her long journey.
Another famous private traveller on the cursus was St. Melania the Younger, who was given permission by Theodosius II in 436 to use the imperial post from Palestine to Constantinople to visit her uncle Volusianus. The permit to use the imperial post, which was, at the same time, a sort of passport, was called diploma or tractoria before the time of Constantine the Great. From his reign on this important document was generally called evectio (synthema in Greek). A “divine” letter of convocation by the emperor could serve in lieu of evectio.
The right of issuing the evectio was a very highly coveted privilege disputed among the senior officers. At the beginning of the fifth century a certain number of passes were granted to certain high officials who were free to dispose of them during the term of their office. But the Emperor Justinian restricted the issuance of extra passes, stipulating that they could be granted only by the Emperor, the Prefect, and the Master of Offices.
The laws in the Code of Theodosius II give precise directions as to the administration of the imperial post, how many horses (veredi), mules, and oxen (paraveredi) should be kept in the mansiones and stationes, how great a load the vehicules (rheda) should carry, how many animals and how much fodder the inhabitants of the provinces were to deliver to the mansiones as special taxes.
Specially chosen inspectors had to see that these laws were carried out. All persons travelling in the interest of the state had to present their evectio to the employees of the cursus. The post, rapid on horseback, was mostly reserved for couriers who changed horses at each station. The travellers were also entitled to entertainment in the mansiones. One of the tractoria which is preserved lists many items of food to which the bearer of the evectio was entitled on his journey. It is a curious document revealing that the larder of the prefect of a mansio must have been well stocked. Few modern airport restaurants or motels could offer such a varied and abundant menu to their customers as did a mansio of the Roman and Byzantine state post.
Official travellers were also able to enjoy other entertainment not provided by the prefects of the mansiones. We gather this from the Life of St. Theodore, written in the seventh century. The anonymous author mentions that the imperial road crossed a place called Sykeon, in Cappadocia, where an enterprising lady had opened a tavern. Besides offering travellers the customary refreshments, the hagiographer candidly confesses that, with her two daughters, she “practiced also the profession of courtesans.” Cosmas, a messenger of the Emperor Justinian, was lured by one of the ladies, the beautiful Mary, and slept with her. During the night Mary saw in a vision a splendid star emerging from her womb, and her lover interpreted this as a sign that she would become the mother of a boy who would be famous as a saint. After this prophecy “he left her in the morning filled with great joy.” In reality, the boy who was born became a monk and the Bishop of Anastasioupolis, one of the greatest miracle workers of his time — according to the hagiographer.
Thanks to the rigorous injunctions of Theodosius, the cursus functioned almost perfectly. The prefects of the stations seem, in general, to have been conscientious in the execution of their duties. When St. Melania the Younger, for example, arrived in Tripolis on her way to Constantinople, the commander of the station, Messala, refused to provide her with all the means for her journey which she thought necessary. He argued that many of her companions were not in possession of an evectio, and that he could provide her only with a limited number of animals and carriages. The saint, in desperation, gave him three gold pieces. This was of help, but the conscience of the official, stirred up by the reproaches of his wife who reminded him that the emperor might learn of his dishonesty, induced Messala to ride after the cortège and to return the three gold pieces to the saint with many excuses and explanations.
Since the companions of Melania appeared surprised by this exhibition of honesty, it would seem that not all commanders of the stations were equally conscientious. Actually, we learn trom Theodosius’s Code that the inspectors, called duriosi, were instructed to detain and report to the Prefect and to the Master of Offices any persons using the post illegally, or who exceeded the privileges granted to them in their evectio. Such trespassing could hardly have been possible without the complicity of the commanders of the stations, and this kind of abuse continued in spite of the strict measures outlined in the Theodosian Code. Justinian issued an order specifying that only trespassers of high rank were to be reported to the office of the Master, while that of the Prefect dealt with offenders of lower rank.
The officers of the imperial post were not permitted to carry private correspondence. There were cases, however, when prominent people succeeded in using the post for their own correspondence. St. Basil, for example, was able to slip invitations to Orthodox bishops bidding them to an important synod into the official bag carrying state papers, and thus made sure that his letters would arrive in time and in safety. On another occasion, he succeeded in handing a letter to an official who was using the imperial post. St. Jerome also confessed that he was fortunate enough to pass a letter addressed to a rich man named Julian to an officer going on an official journey. This was made easier by the fact that the officer was Julian's brother. Such cases, however, seem to have been rare. The cursus served only the interests of the state and its employees handled only official correspondence. Rich citizens and clerics used either their own messengers, or professional couriers (tabellarii).
The Byzantine Empire under Justinian I. A.D. 565
The system of the imperial post functioned well into the reign of Justinian. The rapidity with which important messages were carried to the emperors is praised by contemporary writers. The church historian Socrates (VII, 19) reports that in 421 a messenger brought the news of a victory over the Persians in Armenia, near Lake Van, to Constantinople in three days. Procopius, when describing in his Anecdota (30) the imperial post in Justinian’s time, says that the couriers were able to ride in one day a distance which ordinarily , would have taken ten days. Each station kept forty horses, the best mounts being reserved for the couriers. We have documentary evidence showing that, in the sixth century, men using the imperial post could travel from Rome to Constantinople in one month, and that this distance could be shortened to twenty-four days if necessary. In general, the messengers, changing horses at each relay post, could travel from forty to forty-five miles in twenty-four hours. Theoretically the speed could be increased, but practically speaking, such a performance would be regarded as satisfactory even in urgent cases. Drivers of light, speedy coaches, with changes at the relays, could cover a distance of twenty-four miles in twenty-four hours, and the average speed on the cursus publicus in the Byzantine period was the same as in Roman times. Generally, however, such travelling was slowed down both by the endurance of beasts and men, and by the condition of the roads, which were not always in good repair.
The importance of this institution to the state was also appreciated by the barbarian kings established in Roman provinces. Theodoric the Great (489-526), King of the Ostrogoths and ruler of Italy, took good care of the Italian cursus during his reign. The kings of the Vandals, after establishing their rule over Roman Africa, also continued to keep the post in good order. Unfortunately, after the reconquest of Africa by Justinian (534), the imperial post in this land seems to have been suppressed.
Justinian is also responsible for curtailing the imperial post in the eastern part of the empire. He left in its entirety only the post road through Asia Minor, which connected Constantinople with Persia, limiting however, the cursus from Chalcedon to a port in Bithynia from which the messages had to be forwarded to the capital by boat. This, of course, slowed down the state service considerably. Instead of horses, asses were used on the cursus through Asia Minor and Syria, and the number of stations was reduced.
From that time on, the organization of the post gradually deteriorated. This was due mostly to the incursions of barbarians into Byzantine provinces.
In the seventh century, the roads of the cursus publicus were mined in Illyricum by the invasions of Avars and Slavs, in Italy by the Lombards, and in Asia Minor by the Persians and Arabs. In spite of this destruction, however, the post continued to function, although on a diminished scale.
Some improvements seem to have been accomplished in the ninth century. The delegates sent to the Council of Constantinople in 869 were able on their return to use the Via Egnatia which connected Constantinople with Thessalonika and Dyrrachium, although they needed a military escort. Venice seems to have become the agent for the transmission of imperial letters from Greece to western Europe. The maritime connection between Dyrrachium and Bari, in Italy, also seems to have functioned at that period.
In spite of this, communications were difficult. We learn that, in the tenth century, it took twenty-two days to reach Sicily from Rome. Liutprand, the ambassador to Nicephorus Phocas from Otto the Great took three months for the return journey from Constantinople to Italy, but this may have been an exception. Liutprand was rather indiscreet during his stay in the capital, and because of his behavior received little help from the imperial services on his return journey.
It seems that after the defeat of the Bulgarian Tsar Symeon (927), the Byzantines were able to reopen the cursus publicus from Constantinople to Thessalonika and Belgrad. We deduce this from the description given by Constantine VII in ch. 42 of his book On the Administration of the Empire. From the Danube to Cherson in the Crimea, a road ran through the territory of the Turkic Pechenegues, and this was also open to the Byzantines when they enjoyed friendly relations with these new nomads in the steppes of southern Russia.
2. Secret Service and Police
Although, as is shown in Chapter II, the evident corruption of the imperial police force in the hands of the so-called frumentarii had forced Diocletian to suppress this organization, it soon became necessary to institute another system to keep peace and order in the empire, and to convey the commands and decrees of the emperor to the magistrates in the provinces. Such an organization was soon created, perhaps by Diocletian himself, or perhaps by Constantine; the men to whom these duties were entrusted were called agentes in rebus — agents of public affairs. These agentes in rebus are mentioned for the first time by Constantine in one of his decrees of 319, the text of which reveals that the new agents were regarded as soldiers and formed a special schola (corps) which was different from other military formations.
Like the imperial guards, they were expected to live in the palace in order to be at the disposal of the emperor at any time. They wore military uniform, were divided into five grades with regular promotions like the military, and the duration of their active service was defined as it was for members of the army.
Their number varied and was augmented, or restricted, according to the wishes of the emperors, and of administrative needs. During the reign of Constantine and Constantius their number seems to have grown to several hundreds, but Julian, moved by the complaints voiced by the people of the provinces who had been grossly exploited by the agentes, limited their number to seventeen. This restriction lasted only during his reign. We learn from the Code of Theodosius 11 that at this time the schoki of the agentes was authorized to keep on its rolls eleven hundred and twenty-four members, whereas during the reign of Leo I their number had been increased to twelve hundred and forty-eight. Besides these there was a long waiting-list of candidates, called supernumerarii, ready to fill the vacancies which occurred in the ranks of the regulars.
According to decrees contained in the Code of Theodosius, admission to the corps of the ogentes was not easy. The candidates were examined as to their ability, moral behavior, and the social status of their families. The emperors themselves granted the appointments. They were given five years to prove their usefulness and capability, and advancement to higher ranks in the corps was strictly regulated; they retired after twenty-five years of active service.
Admission to the corps was controlled by the Master of Offices, under whose care was also placed the accredited roll of the agentes. Moreover, he was expected to inquire into the efficiency and ability of members of the corps, and to supervise their promotion and the conferring of honors upon them according to their industry and capability, although advancement was made regularly on the basis of seniority, tie also enforced the imperial regulations regarding the corps and exercised judicial authority over it.
The duties of the agentes were multiform, their primary function being the dispatch of imperial decrees and orders to the magistrates in the provinces. For this purpose they used, of course, the roads of the imperial post, and the directors of the mansiones were ordered to have the best mounts ready for them at all times. During this service as messenger, the agent was entitled to be accompanied by a groom. He may also have had to care for the safety of the imperial messenger. The groom rode a horse called parhippus.
To be given a guard on horseback was a privilege which was seldom accorded to other users of the cursus publicus. The directors of the mansiones also provided the messengers with food which the agentes consumed on horseback in order not to lose time in an emergency. The imperial messengers were called veredarii — angeliaforoi in Greek, or, conveyors of orders.
From Constantius on the agentes in rebus were entrusted with the surveillance of the functioning of the cursus publicus. Before Constantine's reign the imperial post was controlled by the Praetorian Prefects, who acted through officers called praefecti vehiculorum, or superintendents of stage service. Constantius supplanted them, however, by officers called praepositi cursus publici or heads of the imperial post. Their duty was to inspect the evectiones or passes, and because of their functions they were popularly called curiosi (inquisitive people), which appellation became their official title about 381. Because the curiosi were chosen from the corps of the agentes in rebus, or imperial agents, who were under the direction of the Master of Offices, this high functionary appropriated the right of the Prefects to accord and supervise the passes. He selected the curiosi and dispatched them to different provinces. However, the Praetorian Prefect retained the duty of overseeing the maintenance of roads and stations, for which the provincial governors were responsible. The inspectors were appointed on the birthday of the emperors and remained in this service no longer than one year. In the beginning, only one curiosus was sent to each province; later any number of these inspectors could be dispatched.
The Master of Offices controlled the use of the state post until the eighth century. However, the head of the curiosi, an officer prominent in the Master's bureau, gradually became the most important agent in the surveillance of the use of the state post, overshadowing the power of the Master himself, and in the eighth century the direction of the post ceased to be a part of the Master’s duties. A new office arose from that of the first curiosus, and its head was called Logothete of the Post (logothetes tou dromon).
The agentes also supervised the execution of imperial orders and the regular functioning of the administration. From among the highest grade of their corps were chosen the principes, who were sent as heads of the officia — or bureaus — of the prefects, and of the most important civil governors in all provinces, to denounce any suspicion of attempts at conspiracy against the emperors, to arrest spies, and to bring the culprits or suspects before the magistrates. Any special mission could be entrusted to them by the emperor or by the Master of Offices.
They sometimes served as envoys to foreign rulers in matters of minor importance. The emperors employed them to spy on persons suspected of disloyalty. In this way they truly formed a secret police in the interior of the empire. This function must have been entrusted to them from the beginning of their existence and probably continued until the fourteenth century, as we learn from a fourteenth-century illuminated manuscript kept in Madrid, illustrating the history of Skylitzes. In it. the artist depicts two spies, sent by the Emperor Leo VI, eavesdropping on the conversation of two people suspected of machinations against the emperor.
The agentes’s special concern comprised the provinces near the frontier of the empire; they also supervised the administration of the private property of the emperors. Some seals of the twelfth century show us that even after the reorganization of the administration of the empire into themata, the ngentes were sent to the new administrative divisions to supervise their proper functioning. In addition, the agentes claimed the right to supervise the ports and the merchant navy — a function, however, which was not granted to them. Because of its far-reaching authority, one can imagine that this secret police force exercised a great influence on the administration of the empire, and that its members very often took advantage of their position. Imperial decrees decried these abuses and the population suffered under the grasp of the imperial secret police. In time the corps of the agentes degenerated in Byzantium as did that of the frumentarii in the Roman Empire, but the secret police force was not suppressed. The safety of the emperors and the empire depended too much on its existence.
Besides the agentes, the emperor had at his disposal a special corps taken from the excubitores, or the palace guard, called scribones. They were often to play an important role in the history of the empire, as the emperor entrusted them with certain missions of special confidence.
The men especially responsible for the personal safety of the emperor were his cubicularii, and they were in charge of the imperial apartments. The history of one of them gives us an insight into the intrigues which frequently endangered the safety of the sovereign, and of the means by which loyal imperial agents disposed of dangerous persons, who were often highly placed. It illustrates, too, the unscrupulous methods by which traitorous plots were brought to light and the conspirators undone.
Samonas was an Arab prisoner and a eunuch who became a Christian and was in the service of the Zautzes family.
When the Empress Zoë, daughter of Zautzes, died, the family, fearing that they would lose the high positions which they occupied at the palace, plotted secretly against the Emperor Leo VI, intending to replace him with a member of their own family. Samonas was let in on the secret, as a servant of the family. The eunuch, however, remained loyal to the emperor, perhaps for selfish reasons, and betraying his employers, revealed the plot to the emperor. Cunningly he secured the conviction and punishment of the conspirators.
For this service Leo VI made him his cubicularius. Samonas soon found another opportunity of proving his loyalty to the emperor by uncovering and bringing to nought another treacherous plot more dangerous than that devised by the Zautzes family. Two powerful and influential aristocrats, Eustace Argyrus and Andronicus Ducas, planned a revolt against Leo. Andronicus was to become emperor with the help of the Arab navy. Eustace, the Lord Admiral, resolved to betray the emperor, help the Arab fleet approach the capital, and assist them in capturing it. The plotters also secured the assistance of the Patriarch Nicholas Mysticus. The latter found himself in a dilemma, as he must either recognize or refuse to recognize the fourth marriage of Leo with Zoë Karbonopsina. All three previous wives of the emperor had died without giving him an heir, but the Orthodox Church at that time only recognized three marriages as legal, regarding a fourth as sinful and uncanonical. If the revolt dethroned Leo, the patriarch’s problem would be solved, and this seems to have been the main reason why he joined the conspirators.
In order to gain Arab naval support for the occupation of the capital, it was necessary to grant some maritime concessions to the Saracens. Eustace the Admiral was chosen to accomplish this by permitting the Arabs to win a few battles. In 902 the loss of Taormina in Sicily to the Arabs of Africa is ascribed by the Continuator of George Monachus to the treachery of Eustace and his officer Caramalus. Both were brought to the capital and condemned to death by the emperor, but on the intervention of the patriarch the sentence was remitted and both were interned as monks in a monastery. In the meantime, Lemnos was captured by the Arabs without opposition from the disorganized Byzantine navy. Samonas must have discovered at this time that a dangerous plot existed, instigated by these two powerful aristocratic families of Argyrus and Ducas, and supported also by the patriarch. An unsuccessful attempt on the life of the emperor was made in church, and the behavior of the patriarch on this occasion looked suspicious. Samonas seems to have been convinced that the plot was soon to be implemented.
It was important to learn by what means the Arabs would support the revolt, and Samonas therefore volunteered to discover the information himself. He was, of course, an Arab and his father, a resident of Melitene, was probably in constant touch with his son in the imperial service. He had met his son Samonas in Constantinople when he was a member of an Arab embassy in 908. Under the pretext of being sent to the strategus of Cyprus for information, Samonas left the capital. He pretended to betray the emperor and, with his own horses, rode through the imperial post to the Arab frontier. In order to convince the Arabs that he was a traitor he was pursued by two imperial officers who, however, were unable to catch up with him as Samonas himself had mutilated the horses of the relays to slow down the pursuit. He succeeded in riding through the territory under the command of the conspirators, but when he came to the bridge which spanned the river Halys, he was stopped by a colonel in the service of the Argyrus. In vain he took another road, pretending to make a pilgrimage to a famous shrine nearby. The colonel had meanwhile informed his superior of his suspicions concerning the journey of Samonas, and the latter was arrested by Constantine, son of Andronicus Argyrus. Andronicus brought Samonas back to Constantinople. The emperor, who had approved Samonas’s plan, was very embarrassed and tried in vain to obtain a promise from the captor not to divulge the incident. He found himself forced to imprison Samonas for a short time, but “pardoned” him soon afterwards.
In the meantime, the Arab navy moved against Constantinople. Andronicus Argyrus commanded the imperial army under the walls of the capital. Eustace, again in command of the Byzantine fleet, furthered his treachery by allowing the Arab fleet to remain unmolested. At the last moment Samonas convinced the emperor that Eustace was a traitor. The command of the fleet was transferred to Himerius, and Andronicus was ordered to embark his troops and sail under Himerius’s orders against the Arabs, Andronicus was in a quandary mercilessly exploited by Samonas, who wrote a letter in which he disclosed to Andronicus that his plot was discovered and that he would be seized and blinded if he obeyed the emperor's order. A secret agent delivered the letter to Andronicus who. of course, refused to obey the emperor’s command.
With his small navy Himerius succeeded in preventing the Arabs trom approaching the capital, but he could not prevent them from sacking Thessalonika. Andronicus, declared a rebel, took refuge in his hill-fort of Kabala with his fellow conspirators.
Basil, one of the conspirators of the Zautzes family, explains their plot to Samonas, while, to their right, two spies of the Emperor Leo VI eavesdrop and take notes (Skyllitzes Matritensis, fol. 110a).
But his cause was not yet lost. He had many supporters in the capital with whom he corresponded through his own secret agents. Among them was the patriarch. Samonas was promoted to eunuch patrician and proto-vestiary for his services. The government invited Andronicus to give himself up with the promise of a full pardon, but he refused.
However, Samonas had his secret agents even at Kabala. They obtained access to the rebel’s private correspondence; one of them succeeded in collecting all the letters sent to him by his allies in the capital, and brought them to the emperor. Upon learning that his accomplices were betrayed, Andronicus decided to flee to the Arabs. The caliph promised him help and sent a detachment of his army to receive Andronicus, who was pursued by a government force. The Arabs defeated the imperial soldiers and brought Andronicus and his family and friends from Kabala to Baghdad where he was well received by the caliph.
Although in the enemy’s land, Andronicus was still a danger. He had many friends in the eastern themata and, supported by the Arab navy, he could still attempt his goal. In order to compromise him with the Arabs, Samonas invented a very clever stratagem. He instructed the imperial secretary to write a letter, highly compromising for Andronicus in his present situation, and it was signed in purple ink by the emperor. An Arab prisoner was freed and told to take the letter, which was rolled into a spill and hidden in a wax candle, to Andronicus. The Arab agent, thinking that the emperor was friendly with Andronicus, promised to carry the candle secretly to him. Samonas, however, convinced the Arab that the letter contained threats to Islam and recommended him to give it to the vizir of the caliph. He did so and thus brought about the ruin of Andronicus and his friends. They were thrown into prison and saved their lives only by abjuring their religion.
Andronicus’s fellow conspirator, Eustace, in exile, was called back and given the command of his Asian thema, but was carefully watched. In desperation he moved to join Andronicus in the Arab lands. Samonas’s agents followed him, arrested him near the Arab frontier, and poisoned him. Thus ended the dangerous plot. As concerns the patriarch, he was shown the compromising letter he had sent to Andronicus and, in order to save himself, was forced to overrule his conscience concerning the fourth marriage of the emperor. He blessed the expectant mother, Leo’s mistress Zoë, and baptized the child with all solemnity, the future Emperor Constantine VII, Porphyrogenitus — born to the purple. Byzantine writers, George Monachus, the Continuator of Theophanel, Symeon Magister,
and the biographer of Euthymius report this plot, although, of course, each has his own version of the story. The whole plot was “rediscovered” and brilliantly described by the late Professor R. J. H. Jenkins.
The corps of the agentes can be described, in some way, as the secret service of the state; aside from this corps, however, no autonomous organism which could be called central state police existed in Byzantium. The senior functionary in each judiciary or administrative field possessed his own police organization through which he transmitted and enforced his orders. This was especially the case with the governors of the provinces, and later on with the logothete of the post, and the stratèges of the themes. Unfortunately we know very little of how this provincial and local police force was organized.
Only in Egypt do we find documentary evidence on this subject, thanks to the great number of papyri which record appeals to the administrative body, as well as private contracts and documents of different kinds. From these we can reconstruct, at least partially, the police organization of the province, as well as its functioning in the different towns.
The chief of police over the whole province of Egypt was the duke. He had at his command soldiers who ensured public order and protected the tax-collectors. In the eparchies (counties) of the province the prefect of police was the praeses, entitled to give orders for the arrest and imprisonment of transgressors. From the instructions given by Justinian in his Edict XIII to the praeses of Libya, we gain some insight into the functioning of the local police. The praeses appointed a representative with power to arrest all rioters and agitators from Alexandria seeking refuge in his territory. He could do so on his own authority, or he could extradite them to the office of the duke, when requested by his special envoy. To accomplish this he had at his disposal not only his own functionaries, employees of his office, but also a company of fifty soldiers whom he could detach from the local garrison.
This concession is important, for its shows us that the maintenance of public order in Egypt was one of the duties of the army. This seems to be confirmed, moreover, by the distribution of troops in the province. They were garrisoned over the whole country, even in places of no strategic importance. This can be explained only by the role that the army played in Egypt as guardians of public order and as collectors of taxes.
The cities also had their police. The chief of police of the city was called defensor (defender), and he commanded a corps of policemen called riparii. Originally the latter were probably supervisors of the proper working of the irrigation dikes that conducted water from the Nile into the farmlands. In the sixth century their activity was extended to policing the cities. They had to maintain public order, arrest persons accused of violating the law, and conduct them to the tribunal. Their duty was also to assist the judges in the execution of their sentences. They were supervised by a captain and were assisted by couriers. The irenarchs mentioned in certain papyri seem sometimes to be identified with the riparii, but their special function cannot be clearly defined. It is not quite clear if the riparii were remunerated for their services, or if the function was a liturgiu, or service in the interest of the community (to which some wealthy citizens were obligated). Guardians of cities and their chiefs are also mentioned in the papyri. They do not seem to be identified with the riparii. An organization of local police also existed in the villages. It functioned under the direction of the riparii, who also possessed some judicial powers, and who examined the complaints of the villagers. If an accused man refused their arbitration, they sent him to the city to the tribunal of the defensor.
Ordinarily the chiefs of the villages ordered the arrest of suspected trespassers, and had at their disposal the local police. In cases where local chiefs and their police neglected to give orders for the arrest of malefactors, or were unable to enforce their orders, it was necessary to appeal to the military tribune of the nearest garrison, who would then send a military patrol to restore order.
In addition to the local police there also existed night watchmen who probably came under the command of the riparii, at least in the cities. The guards of the fields played an important role, namely, the surveillance of the dikes and of the irrigation of the fields. Shepherds watched over the domestic animals of the villagers, and both of these minor police duties were supervised by the riparii. It seems that the settlements were divided into blocs, each of which had its own guards and shepherds.
Special provisions prevailed in the desert regions. In order to protect the caravans from attack by bandits, fortified towers manned by watchmen were erected at certain distances. Of course, large individual estates often had their own riparii. shepherds and guards of the fields, whom the owners maintained out of their own funds.
We also have some evidence concerning municipal administration and policing in the capital. The prefect of the city, called eparchos, held a very high position among the imperial officers, as he represented the emperor in the city, and was commander of the urban police.
From the fourth century on he held in his hands the civil and criminal administration in Constantinople and its suburbs up to a distance of one hundred miles. He received as well appeals from neighboring provinces, and in the ninth century he became the supreme judge in the empire. He was not only responsible for guarding the city, but had also to watch over its economic prosperity; for this purpose he enjoyed wide economic and commercial jurisdiction over all professional establishments in the city. His rights are described in the Book of the Prefect, attributed to the Emperor Leo VI (tenth century). The work, however, merely codifies usages which had been current in the past.
His Office was composed of numerous personnel, headed by two first chancellors. The inspectors of the workshops, shops, and commercial establishments were free to enter any workshop or store at any time to ascertain that the rules of the eparchos concerning the nature of production and of prices were being strictly observed.
The city was divided into fourteen districts headed by chiefs; at their disposal were policemen and firemen (vigiles, nyctophylakes), commanded by the prefect of the vigiles called nycteparchos. Justinian improved on this organization In 532 by replacing the prefect by a praetor of the people who had at his disposal an assessor and a tribunal of justice, with twenty soldiers and thirty firemen.
In 539, Justinian created another police post presided over by a quaesitor. He was in charge of a kind of immigration office which surveyed the influx of population from the countryside and from foreign countries, and which sent back undesirable individuals. In the ninth century this function was exercised by the quaestor sacri palatii, who had his own court and extensive judicial authority.
This arrangement seems to have operated quite well. Liutprand of Cremona, who had visited Byzantium twice as envoy of King Berengar and of the Emperor Otto I, mentions in his Antapodosis (Tit-for-Tat. I, chs. 11, 12), that during the night soldiers were posted at every crossroad to keep watch and ward. They were under orders to arrest any suspicious person roaming the streets, give him a whipping, imprison him. and bring him up for public trial the next day. Then he tells an anecdote about Emperor Leo VI. who, determined to test the fidelity of the guards, left his palace one night unattended, and pretended to visit a brothel. He was arrested at two guardposts, but the guards, after being bribed, let him go. The guardians of the third guardpost, however, refused the bribe, thrashed him well, put him into irons and thrust him into prison. The next morning the emperor persuaded the jailor to take him to the palace, where he was recognized, much to the jailor’s astonishment.
The emperor then punished the policemen of the first two guardposts and rewarded the men of the third for their trustworthiness. Basil I seems to have appointed special judges in each street who acted as commissars of the police.
There were, of course, other municipal servicemen, especially those charged with the lighting of the city streets, and men to oversee tlie regular functioning of the aqueducts and the distribution of grain to the populace. The provincial cities imitated the police arrangements of the capital. They were, however, beginning to lose the freedom of their curial organization, especially since the creation of the themata. The strateges resided in the cities and gradually took over the surveillance of the police and civil administration.
They had at their command soldiers whose main garrisons were in the leading cities.
3. Intelligence in the Border Lands and in Enemy Territory
Thanks to the normal functioning of the state post and to the service of the agentes as messengers and informers, the imperial government received its intelligence extremely swiftly. However, this was insufficient when trouble originated near the frontier and speedy counteraction seemed necessary. The conflicts with Persia, and later with the Arabs, made it vital for the emperors and their armies to secure information quickly concerning events in Asia Minor, especially near the Persian or Arab frontier. After the collapse of the Persian Empire, the Arabs threatened the Byzantine possessions in Asia Minor, especially during the ninth and tenth centuries. Therefore, it became necessary to introduce special measures.
The surveillance of the border lands in Asia Minor was entrusted to a special guard corps called akritai, chosen from among the finest soldiers, who were the successors of the limitanei of the Roman Empire. Their duty was to be on the alert for trouble in the border lands, to prevent penetration of enemy spies and secret agents into Byzantine territory, to collect intelligence of all kinds about the enemy, and to transmit it to the capital.
In order to obtain this intelligence they spied on the enemy guards, harassed them, made raids into enemy territory, and took prisoners in order to discover as much intelligence as they could about the plans of their hostile neighbors.
The akritai were extremely mobile and were posted at fixed places along the frontier. Their stations communicated with each other by optic signals, the men responsible for signalling being relieved every two weeks.
The Passes in the Southern Taurus Mountains
They were enterprising and bold. Their hazardous and adventurous life, and the affrays with infidels and brigands, are portrayed in the famous epic called Digenes Akritas. This was a kind of Byzantine “Western,” which inspired not only the younger Byzantine generations, but also obtained an enthusiastic reception in old Russian literature. The hero of this story actually existed. A member of the aristocratic house of Ducas, his name was Basil Pantherios and he was in command (klisurarch) of the passes of Taurus. His story reveals, at the same time, the military character of the Byzantine aristocracy from which most of the higher-ranking officers of the army were recruited. According to an anonymous author on the conduct of war, akritni were posted not only on the Arab but also along the Bulgarian frontier and their property was exempt from taxation. However, this privilege was rescinded in the thirteenth century by the Emperor Michael Paleologus. The akritai thereupon revolted, but were defeated and liquidated as a military class.
Information obtained in this manner by the akritai and by Byzantine spies in enemy territory was quickly transmitted by messenger along the imperial post to the capital. This method was, however, inadequate when the frontier between the Arab caliphate and Byzantium was shifted to the province of Cilicia. The frequent invasions by Arab emirs into Byzantine territory forced the Byzantines to reorganize their intelligence service throughout Asia Minor.
In order to obtain information as fast as possible about movements on the frontier, the Byzantines introduced a rapid system of fire signals running from the frontier through Asia Minor to the Pharos along the high terrace overlooking the imperial palace. Watchmen, posted on hills at easy distances, sent the fire signals to other watchers. The service was fast, and the watchers posted on the Pharos both day and night could receive the news from the frontier within the hour.
This fire system was ingeniously perfected during the reign of Theophilus (829-842) by Leo the Mathematician. He constructed two identical clocks which kept exactly the same time. One was placed at the last station of the fire signals near the frontier, and the other near the imperial palace. Twelve incidents likely to occur, and which would have to be communicated through seven relays to headquarters at the imperial palace, were assigned to each of the twelve hours and written on the faces of both clocks. Upon receiving intelligence that the enemy was about to cross the frontier, the commander of the frontier post lit his fire signal when the clock showed the hour of one,
and thus the watchers in the palace knew at what time the invasion had begun. When hostilities had commenced, a signal at two o’clock was made, and at three o’clock the signal announcing a battle conflagration was lit.
We learn that during the reign of Michael III (842-867) the fire signal began working at a time when the emperor was attending his private hippodrome. The attention of the select onlookers was naturally distracted from the display to the clock, and the bad news it announced. The emperor is said to have stopped the signals. This, of course, is an exaggerated story exploited by his adversaries to discredit Michael III. He seems only to have taken precautions to avoid panic among the people when news of an invasion was signalled by the clock on the palace. The signalling system seems to have gone on working even if the beacons near Constantinople were not lit.
This method of optic intelligence functioned particularly well in the tenth century. It was by this system that Basil II, fighting in Bulgaria against Tsar Samuel, was kept iniormed of what was happening on the Arab frontier. He learned by the fire signals that his ally, the young Emir of Aleppo, was in danger from the Fatimid Caliph Al-Aziz, who had broken the truce with the empire and was about to conquer Aleppo. The Duke of Antioch tried to bring aid to Aleppo, but was defeated by the Egyptian Arabs.
Basil II did not hesitate, after hearing the news, in coming to a surprising decision. Abandoning the campaign in Bulgaria, he assembled his troops, commanded each soldier to mount his fastest mule and to take another as relief. Using the imperial post, he crossed Asia Minor in midwinter in sixteen days. Joining his army at Antioch, he marched against Aleppo. His unexpected appearance put the Egyptians into a panic. Having conquered two towns in Syria, Basil II returned to Constantinople in the autumn of 995. This extraordinary performance, extolled by Arab historians, shows us not only the rapidity of the information service between the emperor on campaign in Bulgaria, Constantinople, and the Arab frontier, but also the military readiness of the Asiatic provinces, and the good condition of the imperial road from the capital to Syria.
The old Roman system of intelligence service in enemy lands also functioned regularly in the Byzantine Empire, at least until the reign of Justinian. Procopius (Anecdota, 30) describes it as follows:
The situation regarding the intelligence service was this: from time immemorial the government had maintained a large number of agents who used to (ravel about among our enemies. Thus, entering the kingdom of Persia, in the guise of merchants or in some other way, they would make detailed inquiries of all that was afoot, and on their return to this country were thus able to make a full report on all the enemy’s secret plans to our government, who, forewarned and put upon their guard, were never taken by surprise. The Persians, too, had long maintained a similar organization. Chosroes. it is said, by putting up the pay of his agents, reaped his reward in the advance intelligence he obtained from our side, for he was always informed of what the Romans were doing. But Justinian would spend nothing; and, indeed, abolished the very name of secret agent from the Roman Empire, the result being, among many other disasters, the loss of Lazica to the enemy, when the Romans had not the remotest idea of where on earth the Persian king and his army were at the time.
Procopius exaggerates when he accuses Justinian of suppressing this kind of intelligence service. We have seen that Justinian did curtail the cursus publicus because of financial difficulties, and Procopius, who recorded it, was right to regret this decision, but we have no evidence that Justinian suppressed the intelligence service in enemy lands. When the Arabs over-ran the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire. Syria, the African coast, and Egypt, the Christian population remained there, and it was not difficult to win over some secret agents from among the caliph’s Christian subjects. On the other hand, the Byzantines also used the services of traitors with whom arrangements were made, and who were called kruptoi philoi, or “secret friends." Moreover, there were agents who were simply planted in enemy territory. There were different means by which sympathies for the Byzantine cause could be won. It was very often achieved by money, sometimes by exploiting religious and other interests or the discontent of higher functionaries with their government.
There were also attempts on the part of the Byzantines to obtain information on Arab intentions through embassies. The Patriarch Nicephorus says in his History that the Emperor Anastasius II, learning that the Arabs were preparing an expedition against Byzantium in 714, sent the Patrician David of Sinope, at that time prefect of the city, to the caliph-probably Walid I (705-715) with an offer of peaceful accommodation. The main object of the embassy was, however, to ascertain the intentions of the caliph and details of his military preparations. Learning that the threat was serious, Anastasius II made serious efforts to strengthen the fortification of the city and began to modify his navy to prevent a maritime attack by the Arabs.
A revolution put an end to these preparations and to Anastasius’s reign. The attack against Byzantium took place in 717, but was repulsed. With the help of the Greek fire which set the enemy’s fleet alight, and of the Bulgarians who attacked the Arabs, the Byzantines were able to defeat the enemy. The ambassador David could also obtain useful information from the “secret friends" in Arab territory. This might well have happened on other similar occasions.
Secret agents worked for Byzantium not only among the Arabs, but also in Bulgaria during the desperate struggle of the khagans against the emperors. Although it appears to have been difficult for the Byzantines to plant their agents in that still barbarian country, they succeeded even in Bulgaria in persuading important persons to work in the interests of the empire.
A tragic story related by the historian Theophanes confirms this. This incident took place in 766 during the reign of the Emperor Constantine V, a valiant defender of the empire against Bulgarian invasions. The Bulgarian Khagan Tzeleric is said to have revealed to the emperor his intention of taking refuge at the imperial court because of the growing difficulties he was having with his boyars, the powerful aristocratic class. He asked the emperor to send him the list of those boyars who were friendly to Byzantium, so that he could discuss and conclude his plans with them. The emperor, believing in the khagan’s sincerity, disclosed to him the names of friendly boyars. When the khagan had learned their identity he arrested and executed them, thus destroying all opposition to his anti-Byzantine policy. The emperor was deeply dismayed when he heard of the khagan’s treachery.
Constantine V must also have had informers among the Arabs. One of them appears to have been the Patriarch of Antioch, Theodore. The historian Theophanes in his Chronographia (p. 663) reports that, in 757, the Arabs deposed Theodore because they suspected that he was sending intelligence reports to the emperor in his letters. Some of his correspondence, seized by the Arabs, must have provoked their suspicion, because he was exiled.
An interesting case of Byzantine espionage, or counter-espionage, is reported by the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in his biographical sketch of his grandfather Basil 1. This incident is reported in chapter 68 of the Continuator of Theophanes (p. 308) and could be dated to the year 880. The emperor says:
While the emperor’s admirals were operating in the West, the southern Arabs took courage . . . and resolved to make a naval expedition with their navy into Roman waters and lands. They thought, however, that they should first send explorers to find out the emperor’s dispositions. They sent an agent, who wore Roman dress and spoke Greek, to make a full inquiry and to give them a report. But the emperor was vigilant as usual. . . . The spy came from Syria, and when he saw the multitude of ships and the state of preparedness, and had amassed and sifted his information, he reported it back to them who had sent him. Hearing of the unexpected alertness of the imperial navy, they became afraid and decided to cancel their expedition.
It is possible that the spy sent by the Arabs was a double agent, but the manner in which the biographer describes the preparedness of the emperor against a surprise attack would seem to indicate that it was Byzantine counter-espionage that discovered the Arab spy and permitted him to see the imperial navy, near the capital, which always stood by ready for action. The spy, convinced that a surprise by the Arabs was not practicable, was sent back, in order to report, what he had seen.
The Continuator of Theophanes (p. 383) has preserved another story which gives us some insight into the way Byzantine espionage worked in Arab Syria, and into the kind of communications sometimes used. When in 913 the Emperor Alexander, Leo’s brother, died, the Council of Regency for the child Constantine VII was in great danger because of the revolt of Constantine Ducas, a powerful general who had numerous supporters in the capital. He was the son of Andronicus Ducas, the unhappy pretender who had disappeared in Baghdad. The Council of Regency was anxious about the attitude of the Arabs, for with their help, Constantine Ducas’s plan against the emperor could succeed.
Fortunately the Byzantines had an agent in Baghdad. He was a tax-collector named Nicholas who, being suspected of embezzlement, had escaped to the Arabs and, in order to win their confidence, became a Muslim. Before escaping he must have made an arrangement with the Byzantine government as to how he would communicate important intelligence to them. Thus he became a “secret friend.” While the Council of Regency was deliberating on the kind of support Constantine Ducas might get from the Arabs, Thomas, the logothete of the post, received a secret message from Nicholas. It was a piece of cloth dipped in black dye. Thomas handed the message to the chief Arab interpreter, Manuel, who washed the cloth and exposed the writing. It ran: “Do not fear the Red Rooster. His revolt will be ill considered and quickly crushed.” The Red Rooster was Constantine Ducas. Such perhaps was the family’s emblem.
The message relieved the fears of the Council, as it meant that the Arab government was not interested in Constantine and had no intention of supporting him. In reality, the revolt was quickly crushed.
This incident indicates, at the same time, that Nicholas must have been in touch with the Byzantine government even before he sent the secret message. He must have learned from Byzantium what was happening and what kind of information the Council of Regency needed. The episode also demonstrates how cleverly the secret information was communicated. There must have been an agreed code between the Byzantine offices and their spies. Unfortunately we know nothing of Byzantine secret writing, although cryptography was known to the ancients. However, it seems probable that more innocent-looking means were used for secret communications, similar to that used by Nicholas. It may even have been books written in Arabic in which certain letters may have been marked in a particular manner prearranged with the secret agent. Such books would easily escape the strict attention of the Arab customs officials and the frontier guards, and, once in the hands of the logothete of the post, the messages could easily be deciphered by the interpreters.
4. Military Intelligence
The Byzantine army continued the task of the Roman legions in defending the state against invading enemies and in trying to discover the military qualities and weak points of the peoples beyond the frontiers, in order to exploit this knowledge in the performance of its duty. Its organization was based on Roman military traditions, but it underwent many changes caused by the new conditions in which Byzantium had to develop.
Constantine the Great established as commanders-in-chief of the mobile field army two Masters of the Army — magistri militum — one for the cavalry and one for the infantry. The “crack” regiments were the scholae palatinae (troops of the imperial guard). His successors created more Masters, each for a separate district and all under the supreme command of the emperor. The military command in the provinces lay in the hands of a dux, under whose orders were the generals responsible for the administration of military affairs. Each had his office bureau, the chief of which was the princeps chosen from the agentes in rebus by the Master of Offices.
In the sixth century, a distinction was made between the élite corps (epilekta) and the “lesser troops called hypodeestera. The élite troops were composed of Buccellarii — household troops attached to generals;
Foederati — recruited first from foreign nations, later from the most warlike contingents of the empire: and the Optimates — selected from the best soldiers of other corps. Although these divisions were called, in the new Greek fashion, Romaioi stratiotai — Roman soldiers — they corresponded to the Roman comitatenses which accompanied the emperors on campaigns, and their orders were still given to them in Latin. Divisions of foreign troops under native leaders were called allies — symmachoi.
The many crises which had shaken the very foundations of the empire during the sixth and seventh centuries had resulted in a complete reorganization of its administrative and military institutions. The standing army was stationed in Constantinople and its neighborhood. Its divisions, each commanded by a Domesticus, were called tagmata (tagmatikoi) and included the four mounted formations of scholarii, the excubiti recruited from the Isaurians, and the hikanatai, a corps created probably by Nicephorus I. Another corps, the arithmus or vigla, formed the guard of the imperial palace and was commanded by a drungarius. Probably in the ninth century a new corps was added to the tagmata called hetaireia, forming the personal guard of the emperor and recruited from foreign elements. Moreover, an infantry regiment called numeri was also stationed in the imperial residence. A contingent of troops commanded by a count (comes) of the Walls never left Constantinople, even when the emperor went into battle along with his tagmata.
Although the imperial palace was well guarded and the private apartments of the emperor were under the surveillance of the cubicularii, we read in the life of St. Blasius of Amorium of a curious incident (AS, November, IV, p. 666). The saint was invited by the Emperor Leo VI to visit him. He went to the palace and was introduced into the antechamber of the monarch and left alone. Not knowing where to go and what to do, and seeing only one door, he opened it and asked the man who was sitting there and writing, simply “brother, could you kindly tell me where the emperor is living?” The man asked him to sit down, promising to show him (soon) to the emperor. During the talk which followed, the humble monk recognized that the man whom he had addressed was the emperor himself. Frightened, he threw himself on the floor asking for pardon.
Besides the standing army, provincial armies formed garrisons called themata (themes) in the newly organized administrative sections of the empire. The armies of the themata were commanded by a strategus, who was also the chief administrator of his thema.
The thema was generally divided into two or three turmai (divisions), each under a turmarch. who was the military commander and administrator of one section of the province. The turmai were divided into moirai (brigades), commanded by drungarii (colonels). The turmai were composed of five bands, each under a comes (count) or tribunus (tribune). Every comes had five pentarchies (companies), each holding forty men, divided into four dekarchies (platoons), each with ten men. Some frontier districts called kleisurai were commanded by kleisuriarchs, independent of the strategus. This reorganization of the provinces of the empire started in the seventh century and went on gradually until the tenth century, when even most of the kleisurai were raised to the status of themata. The strategus of the thema Anatolikon in Asia Minor held the highest rank and was followed by the Domesticus of the scholarii. The latter, through the tenth century, held the supreme command of the army, if the emperor himself was not in the field.
Among the staff of the strategus, the so-called count of the tent held a special place and was in some way responsible for the security of the strategus when the commander was on the march with his troops. He supervised the erection of the commander’s tent and, with the drungarius (colonel) of the watch, circulated through the camp during the night. He also provided post horses for this officer when he was on imperial business. When the whole army was at war, and being led by the emperor, the counts of the tent of all themes had to supervise the erection of the imperial tent and take care of the security of the camp. Sometimes the count of the tent was sent on special missions. St. Theodore of Studios complains in one of his letters that the strategus of the Anatolic thema had sent his count of the tent on imperial order to interrogate him (the saint) in his prison at Smyrna in 819. The counts of the tent can be regarded as intelligence officers of the themes.
From treatises on military tactics attributed to Maurikios, we gain some insight into the organization of military intelligence. Every tactical unit — formerly the Roman legion, but now called bandon or tagma — counted about 400 men and was divided into companies of 100, each having platoons of 10 and 5 men. Each tagma not only had a complete staff of officers and non-commissioned officers but also, besides corpsmen, quartermaster, and baggage master, included scouts who preceded the tagma and explored the terrain. When they had spotted the enemy, the scouts relayed their information to the commander — comes, called also tribunus — tribune — who signalled his orders to the men through his trumpeter.
It was a sacred duty of the strategus — the commander of an army — to obtain from the scouts, by any available means, all information on the character, resources, water provision, and inhabitants of the provinces through which his army had to pass or which he had to occupy. For this purpose he used a special corps, called cursores or trapezitai, the members of which were often recruited from the native population of provinces through which the army was marching, or from the frontier posts. This corps acted independently and on its own initiative, preparing ambuscades for advanced enemy details and capturing prisoners who could give more intelligence on the enemy. This corps also guarded the flanks of the army when it was resting in camp.
For a short period there also existed a special corps of military police. It was created in 527 by the Emperor Justinian. Called viacolutai — protectors against violence — its members stopped the pillage and brigandage with which the troops often molested the populace. However, the protectors against violence became a worse plague than the brigands; moved by the bitter complaints of the populace, Justinian suppressed the corps of military police as early as 536.
The military forces of the themes were especially vigilant in the regions near the borders of the empire. It appears that they arrested everyone unable to produce a written permit to account for his presence near the border. The hagiographers of the tenth century mention four famous cases of such arrests which happened during the reign of Leo VI. St. Elias the Younger (AS, Augustus, III, 495) was arrested and imprisoned with one of his disciples near the city of Butrinto in Epirus by the representatives of the stratege. They were suspected of being spies of the Arabs. The sudden death of the officer — regarded as a miraculous event by the population — freed them.
St. Blasius the Younger (PG, 109, col. 656) lived as a hermit in the mountainous region in Asia Minor, most likely in the Taurus near the frontier. In the tenth year of Leo’s reign, a detachment of imperial guards-the biographer calls them magistriani — patrolling the region found him and, fearing that he was an Arab spy, brought him to Constantinople for investigation. The case must have been regarded as very serious, because he was brought into the presence of the patrice and cubicularius, the eunuch Samonas, already familiar to us from his activities as the emperor’s secret agent in the Zautzes conspiracy. The saint seems to have been freed by Samonas, although he did not behave with much respect to the investigator.
The biographer of the Patriarch Euthymius (907-912) reports another incident of this kind concerning Nicetas David the Philosopher. Violently opposing the validity of the fourth marriage of Leo VI and disgusted by the attitude of the patriarch who had abandoned the anti-marriage party, Nicetas left the capital and took refuge in a hermitage near Media, on the Bulgarian frontier, in order to lead a contemplative life. Arrested by the soldiers of the Thracian thema on suspicion of spying for the Bulgarians, he was brought to Constantinople and put under threat of very severe punishment. He was saved by the patriarch, who allowed him to become a monk in his monastery.
The famous Luke the Junior, the Thaumaturge, when leaving his home in order to become a monk, was arrested by a group of soldiers in Thessaly who asked him who he was and where he was going. He answered that he was a slave of Christ. The soldiers thought that he was an escaped slave, and after a good thrashing, they threw him in prison. He was freed only when those who knew him testified that he was an innocent man (PC. III, col. 445). In this case, we are probably dealing only with the vigilant activity of the local police. The hagiographer says that the soldiers were looking for escaped slaves. It seems, however, that detachments of soldiers of a thema were often commanded to support the local police, which was apparently not as well organized as the army.
Until the creation of an Arab fleet, the Byzantine navy continued the role of the Roman navy which dominated the whole Mediterranean Sea. But even during Justinian's campaigns to reconquer the western province from the Goths and the Vandals, the Byzantine navy played only a minor role. Although small, it proved its importance in the defense of the empire when Heraclius with his few vessels succeeded in preventing the Persians (626) from crossing the Bosporus and joining the Avars and the Slavs who were about to attack Constantinople from the land side. The Arab fleet was created by Muawiya when he was still governor of Syria. With his Phoenician and Egyptian sailors, he took Cyprus, then Rhodes and Cos. In 655 the newly created Arab fleet met the Byzantine navy at Phoenix (modern Finike) on the Lycian coast and destroyed it. The disaster sealed the fate of Byzantine naval supremacy and forced the Greeks to take better care of their navy. The system of themes was also applied to the navy. Several reorganizations followed, but not until the ninth century under the Emperors Michael III and Basil I was the Byzantine maritime power reconstructed and divided into several maritime themes, each commanded by a strategus.
Besides the fleet of the themes there was an imperial fleet, centered around the waters of the capital and commanded by the drungarius of the fleet. The Byzantine navy reached its zenith in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but even then it played only a secondary role in the defense of the empire, the army remaining paramount. The failure by the government to build a strong maritime power was one of the main causes of the collapse of the empire.
The warships were generally called dromons, and were of varying size with two banks of oars, sometimes with sails, and had a complement of from one hundred to three hundred oarsmen and soldiers. Specially constructed warships, a type of cruiser capable of greater speed, were called pamphyli. The admiral’s flagship was a large pamphylus designed for great speed, manned with a handpicked crew and escorted by light dromons which reconnoitered the sea. Their commanders had at their disposal smaller vessels which were a kind of dispatch boat with only one bank of oars, called galaiai and moneria. They were used for small expeditions and for observation; they brought in or sent out information and orders to and from the admiral, and also served as sentinels. Their missions were various.
The dromons were fitted with ramming spurs, and with catapults and siphons for launching incendiary material composed of sulphur, saltpetre, and naphtha which, on becoming inflamed, destroyed the enemy vessels. The composition of this "Greek fire” was a strongly guarded state secret. The navy was always formed up in combat order and kept patrols, not only at sea but also off the nearest coast. Maritime maneuvering was carried out with great precaution; the admirals were allowed to engage in a set battle only when they had at their disposal more men-of-war than the enemy, or when the fleet was endangered.
The duty of the strategus of the maritime thema of the Cibyrrheotes and the catepano of the Mardaites, in the Taurus region, whose residence was in Attalia, was to keep the coast of Cilicia under surveillance with their dromons and to spy on the naval activity of the Arabs lying off the Syrian coast.
Constantine Porphyrogenitus, when describing the preparations for the expedition against Crete in 911, reveals that before plans for the expedition were made, the two naval commanders were ordered to put some of their warships into active service and to cruise along the Syrian coast in order to discover the exact plans of the Muslims and their operations in Syria and on the coast (De ceremoniis, 44.657).
Model of a dromon, a warship of the Byzantine Imperial navy (R. H. Dolley, “The Warships of the Later Roman Empire,” The Journal of Roman Studies, 38).
The Byzantine Imperial navy destroys the fleet of the insurgent Thomas with Greek fire (Skyllitzes Matritensis, fol. 34v.b).
His description of the mobilization of the navy for this purpose gives us precious evidence about the organization and equipment of the Byzantine navy in the tenth century (De ceremoniis, 45.664-678).
During naval operations, the captains of the slops were expected to observe the pamphylus of the admiral, who gave orders by signalling from different sides and heights of the central flagship with banners of various colors, or with fire and smoke. A whole code of signals existed with which the commanders and their crews had to be acquainted. Part Nineteen of the strategic treatise ascribed to the Emperor Leo the Wise gives numerous instructions as to the kinds of signals to be used and how the signalling should be handled. Unfortunately, the need for secrecy prevented the author from explaining the various signals then in use. The author points out that the admiral must first discuss all his plans with the captains of every vessel, give them precise instructions as to how the vessels should be maneuvered, and tell them which signals would be used to indicate the tactical movement to be executed.
The harbors of the major cities of the empire were not protected by warships, as the cities usually had their own police for the protection of their ports. Permanent stations for warships were only located in a few strategically important places. The harbor of Abydos, for instance, had a permanent contingent of warships for the protection of the passage through the Dardanelles to the Sea of Marmara. Warships were posted near the coast of Dyrrachium (modern Durazzo in Albania), in the Adriatic Sea, and in the waters off the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Justinian, moreover, established at least three well-chosen principal observation points for the navy. In the Black Sea, he not only fortified the city of Cherson but stationed warships in its harbor which guarded the Crimean Peninsula; thus he was assured of reliable intelligence on activity in the Black Sea. He also placed war vessels in the port of Aila at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba tor the surveillance of happenings in the Red Sea.
The most important of the naval intelligence centers established by Justinian was on the small peninsula of Septem (Ceuta) guarding the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea. The place was so strongly fortified, according to Procopius (De aedificiis, VI, 7), “that it could not be taken by anybody.” Justinian ordered his general Belisarius to station in its harbor as many dromons as possible (CJ, I, XXVII, 2). From this intelligence center dromons carrying messengers were sent to the south of Caul, into Spain, and to the Adriatic Sea to gather political, military, and even economic information important to Constantinople.
Justinian exhorted his successors not to weaken this important naval intelligence center.
Some of the Byzantine treatises on military operations summarized the results of military intelligence when describing in detail how the army should fight new nations which appeared in the neighborhood of Byzantium and whose tactics were, so far, unknown. In this respect the most important is the Strategicon, which is ascribed to the Emperor Maurice (582-602) during the first period of his reign. Book Eleven of this treatise deserves particular attention because its author deals with some of the new peoples with whom the empire was in conflict. In some cases his work gives almost the only information that we have about peoples who had now for the first time entered into the history of Europe.
He describes first the Persians (ch. 2), revealing their good qualities — industry, assiduity, great love for their country, and readiness to serve it. They fear their rulers, and, when obeying orders, they manifest great patience in executing all unpleasant labors which the defense of their country imposes on them. Their military qualities are also praised. They care for order, avoid recklessness and baste. They bear without complaint heat in a warm climate, and are able to suffer thirst and lack of proper food, but cold and rain sap their strength. The author then gives very precise directions as to how the Byzantine generals should draw up their armies to face the Persians, what kind of stratagems they should use, and how their infantry and cavalry should maneuver in order to defeat the enemy. All these instructions are based on long experience in combat with the Persians.
After describing the strategy of the Persians, the author (ch. 3) gives important information on the Avars. They, mixed with some Turkic tribes, were defeated in 552 by tbe T’u-chüeh Turks and driven into the steppes of southern Russia. They allied themselves with Justinian in 558. As his confederates, they destroyed the rest of the Huns in the steppes, but after gaining the ascendancy over numerous Slavic tribes and establishing themselves in modern Hungary, they made disastrous incursions into the Balkan provinces of the empire. With their Slav supporters they destroyed Singidunum (Belgrad) and Sirmium about 582, and threatened Thessalonika about 597. About 614 they destroyed Salona, and in 626 they appeared with their Slavs under the walls of Constantinople. Maurice had bitter experiences with them, and his description of this tribe and its strategy is one of the few authentic accounts we have about the Avars.
He is well aware of their military skill and praises their discipline and obedience to their khagan. They like to accept presents of money from the emperors, but, he says, they are not to be trusted. They often break their oath of friendship, and prefer to fight their adversaries by fraud and deception. Since they are nomads, they take good care of their horses and fighl only on horseback, attacking with arrows while riding against the enemy front. The author then gives advice as to how to employ the infantry and cavalry in battle with them: Because they are astute, cunning, and treacherous, the Byzantine commanders should choose a flat, woodless, and dry terrain for an encounter with such a deceitful enemy. Fortunately, as they are very greedy and unstable, being composed of different tribes, they readily defect and desert their companions when attracted by a profitable reward or remuneration.
There follows (ch. 4) intelligence acquired by friendly and hostile contacts with the “fair-haired” — the Franks in Gaul, Lombards in northern Italy, and with “other similar nations.” In spite of the loss of the western provinces-Gaul, northern Italy, and Spain — the Byzantines did not lose interest in them and followed very carefully all events in western Europe as well as in Africa. We have seen that Justinian established the most important center for this kind of intelligence in the harbor of Ceuta.
Maurice himself did not abandon the conception of a single imperium romanum, though in his lime it was divided and governed by several rulers. He wanted his second son to reside in Rome and reign over Italy and the western islands. He secured for the empire at least parts of Justinian’s conquest, regrouping its remnants and creating the exarchate of Ravenna, giving military and civil powers to the exarch about 584. Similar measures were taken in North Africa, which was to be governed by the exarch of Carthage. All this shows that interest in the West was still very much alive in Byzantium.
It is therefore interesting to read how Maurice and his contemporaries evaluated the military qualities of the Westerners, especially of the Franks. He first praises them — for appreciating their freedom and being ready to fight for it. However, they are not as hardy as the barbarians, and they do not endure the hardship of long marches, hunger, or thirst. Therefore, the Byzantine generals, when dealing with them, should protract the campaign and avoid great battles. This will wear them down, and they will grow tired of war. As they are utterly careless about reconnaissance and putting up outposts, they can be easily surprised in their camps and put into disarray.
The Franks regard a retreat under any circumstances as being dishonorable. They will fight whenever they are given the opportunity. Therefore, Byzantine generals must first secure every advantage for themselves and choose the battlefield, if possible on hills, where the enemy’s cavalry with its lances and large shields cannot be deployed. They have little unity through discipline and are not divided into companies, but are bound only by kinship or oath. Therefore, as they tend to fall into confusion after delivering their charge, it is advisable to simulate flight, and then turn against them. They are also easily won ’over by offers of money and other advantages. It is desirable to attack them from the flank and protract negotiations for peace in the expectation that they will be weakened by lack of provisions and become disorganized.
In the fifth chapter the author gives his longest and most informative account, dealing with another new people which had appeared on the frontiers of the empire — the Slavs. This report is the more valuable as it is the first description of the lives and habits of this new people. The author praises first of all their love for freedom and their determination not to accept subjugation to other nations. They are very hardy, surviving hunger, cold, heat, and thirst. He insists especially on their hospitality and their respect for foreigners who cross their country; these they accompany to their destinations, severely punishing anybody who would hurt them. He praises the fidelity of their wives, since the widows prefer death after the departure of their men. They like to dwell in woods, where they hide their property in the ground. They are good swimmers and are able to stay hidden in the water with the help of canes through which they breathe air from the surface. The Byzantine general, however, has a poor opinion of their strategy. As they do not like to be governed by one person and are jealous of each other, they are unable to form a battle array. They prefer to ambush their enemies in woods and narrow places, using different ruses to attract them. Because of that, it is best to attack them during the winter when they cannot hide in woods or swamps. As they have many leaders who are jealous of each other, it is easy to win over one or more of them by promises and presents. However, one must use with caution those Slavs who offer their services as scouts, because one cannot trust them.
There was only one Slavic tribal group which was well organized, the Antes. This group of Slavs, living between the Dniester and the Danube, were governed by a Sarmatian tribe, the Antes, which had succeeded in subordinating several Slavic tribes and organizing them into a kind of political unity.
The Byzantines found out that good relations with the Antes could be profitable, and Justinian accepted them as federates of the empire. Unfortunately, this political grouping was destroyed in 602 by the Avars.
The treatise of Maurice was based not only on military science inherited from the Romans — especially the treatise on military matters composed by Arrian-but also, and primarily, on his own and his contemporaries’ experience. It was revised many times and appeared again in a prolonged form at the beginning of the tenth century under the name of Emperor Leo VI (886-912). This new edition added new intelligence on the “Turks” (ch. 18), by which name the Magyars and the tribes dwelling north of the Euxine are meant. This is again one of the first accounts we have of the appearance of these tribes.
The “Turks” take the field with innumerable bands of light horsemen, carrying javelin and scimitar, bows and arrows. They like ambushes and stratagems of every sort. They can seldom be attacked by surprise, as they post guards very carefully around their camps. It is recommended that the Byzantine heavy cavalry should ride them down in open field without exchanging arrows with them at a distance. They are averse to attacking a steady formation of Byzantine infantry because the bows of the Byzantine archers carry farther than their own weapons. The infantry can thus shoot down their horses before they can use their own bows. A pitched battle with them by the Byzantine heavy cavalry is therefore desirable, but during the pursuit caution is recommended, because they are able to rally very quickly.
The description of Arab military ability given by Leo’s Tactica is extensive and gives a vivid picture of wartare in Asia Minor duiing the ninth and tenth centuries. “Of all barbarous nations,” says the author, “they are the best advised and the most prudent in their military operations” (ch. 18). Leo states also that “they have copied the Romans in most of their military practices, both in arms and in strategy.”
He characterizes the Arab soldiers very pertinently:
They are not regular troops, but a mixed multitude of volunteers. The rich man serves from pride of race, the poor man from hope of plunder. Many of them go forth because they believe that God delights in war, and has promised victory to them. ... Thus there is no uniformity in their armies, since experienced warriors and untrained plunderers ride side by side.
Most of the Arab invasions into the themes of Asia Minor were made for plunder, as this region was at that time regarded as the richest in the world.
When the strategus of the thema nearest to the frontier had obtained the intelligence that Saracen horsemen were riding to the passes of Taurus, he should at once assemble every efficient horseman in this theme to meet the enemy. Since only heavy cavalry had the chance to ride them down, the infantry should be sent to the passes to occupy them and delay the enemy’s retreat, helping the cavalry to destroy the raiders and capture their beasts of burden carrying the plunder. In case of a real invasion with a numerous Arab army, the Strategus of the invaded thema had to limit himself to defensive action, hanging on to the enemy’s flanks and preventing plunder by detached parties. In the meantime the strategus of every thema had to collect his forces, and only then could the heavy cavalry from all themes, a force of about 25.000, ride down the light Arab cavalry which was famous for its speed. The Arabs also used camels, and the Byzantine generals are admonished to make their cavalry accustomed to the appearance of those unfamiliar beasts and also to train the horses not to be frightened by noisy acclamations and the sound of the drums of the attacking enemy. The navy should collaborate with the troops in case of an Arab attack, by ravaging the Cilician coast. In addition, vigorous raids into Cilicia and northern Syria by the troops of the Kliesurachs of Taurus would punish the Arabs for their ravaging of Byzantine territory. One can see from Leo s description that the Byzantines had learned during the ninth century how to face the Arab danger. In reality, the Arabs, in spite of almost yearly incursions into Asia Minor, never succeeded in establishing a stable base beyond the passes of the Taurus Mountains.
Leo’s Tactica repeats what Maurice says on warfare with the Franks, though omitting mention of the Slavs and Bulgars because both were, in his time, already converted to Christianity, and the Bulgars were friendly with the Byzantines. His treatise, as we have already seen, is the only one which devotes a long chapter, the nineteenth, to maritime warfare.
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (912-959) extracted from Maurice’s Strategicon the part describing the war techniques of foreign peoples. From the same century we have a very interesting treatise written by an officer under the reign of the Emperor Nicephoros II Phocas (963-969). It is a very original work because its author concentrates on the organization of successful guerrilla warfare. In this respect it is a unique production of medieval literature. The author also pays special attention to the ways by which intelligence could be obtained by the akritai near the frontier and recommends the commanders of the advanced posts to allow merchants to enter hostile territory freely because they are best fitted to bring back important intelligence (ch. 7).
Conquest of Berrhoia in Syria by Nicephorus Phocas in 963 (Skyllitzes Matritensis, fol. 142a).
Nicephoras Phocas enters Constantinople in triumph in 963, hailed by the populace as he approaches Hagia Sophia (Skyllitzes Matritensis, fol. 145b).
He stresses the importance of any kind of intelligence in ascertaining the enemy’s position, whether provided by spies or by voluntary informants. “Never turn away freeman or slave,’ admonishes the author, “by day or night, though you may be sleeping or eating or bathing, if he says that he has news for you.”
The last of this series on tactics is the Strategicon of Cecaumenos. It is a curious compilation of advice addressed to a strategus, instructing him on his behavior and the care of his men (chs. 24-87). The author had probably once been a strategus, as he affirms that what he says is based on his own experience. In chapters 218-226, he gives advice on how to treat the toparchs, those foreign rulers who, although independent, are under the surveillance or protection of the emperor. Chapters 166-188 deal with a rebellion or usurpation, giving directions for dealing with such eventualities. All these chapters can be regarded as parts of a strategicon. New peoples with whom the Byzantines came into contact are mentioned— the Pechenegues (new Turkic tribes in the Russian steppes), and, besides the Bulgars, the Serbs and the Vlachs (Valaques). Interesting narratives are given on the victories or failures of Byzantine armies in cases where their generals had not observed or had neglected the counsels given. This so-called Strategicon seems to have been composed between August 1075 and January 1078. Other chapters of this work — a curiosity in Byzantine literature — contain directions given to the author’s children on how they should conduct their lives. H.-G. Beck, who prepared a German translation of this work, calls it very fittingly A Vademecum of a Byzantine Aristocrat.
5. Diplomatic Intelligence
The kind of intelligence about different peoples which we find in the treatises on strategy and military art had been obtained not only from military experience, but also by diplomatic means.
The Byzantines were in a most difficult position. The boundaries no longer existed in the western provinces and, in order to preserve what they could of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, it was necessary to open diplomatic relations with their neighbors, rivals, and adversaries, and endeavor to learn as much as possible of their military and political characteristics. No wonder they watched so carefully the situation in the steppes between the Caucasus and the Danube,
and attempted to penetrate with their embassies even further beyond the Volga into the interior of Asia. It was from there that the first fatal onrush had come. Diplomatic intelligence was often the sole protection against new surprises, for the military power of the empire was gradually diminishing.
However, this combination of diplomatic and military intelligence saved the empire during the most crucial period of its existence—the sixth and seventh centuries — helping the emperors not only to survive many crises in the following period, but even to renew its past glory in the tenth and eleventh centuries.
The first dangerous onslaught came from the Mongolian nomadic tribes of the Huns. From their seats in Central Asia between the Balkash and Aral Seas, and from the Kirghiz Steppe on the north side of Syr Darya, they moved westward, and in 350 defeated the Iranian Alans living between the Caucasus Mountains, the Don, and the Ural. In 369 they migrated with their new subjects into the steppes of southern Russia. After annihilating the Germanic Ostrogoths (375), they also established themselves in Hungary. Their unexpected appearance in the great steppe-belt of southern Russia and Hungary impelled the Germanic tribes to cross the Roman frontiers of the Rhine and Danube, a move which upset the whole situation in central and western Europe.
From the Hungarian plains the Huns, under their dreaded leader Attila, threatened Byzantine territories in the Balkans. This induced the Emperor Theodosius II (408-450) to send a special embassy to Attila in 448 to conclude a peace treaty with him. The ambassador Maximinus was accompanied by the interpreter Vigila and many servants. Fortunately, the secretary of the embassy was the rhetor Priscus Panites; thanks to him we are in possession of a detailed description of the route taken by the embassy on its way to the residence of Attila, which lay behind the river Temesh in northeastern Hungary. This description is part of a Gothic history written by Priscus and preserved only in fragments. He relates vividly the journey and the many incidents experienced by the embassy. His description of Attila’s residence, of Hunnic customs and court ceremonial, especially of the banquets offered by Attila and his wife Kreka, is very colorful and gives unique information about this people and its leader.
When speaking of the peoples subjugated by the Huns, he mentions that in some villages the inhabitants had offered his companions a meal prepared from millet and a drink made from honey (Fragmenta, VIII). He plainly distinguishes this people from the Huns and the Goths.
Since it is known from other sources that the primitive Slavs cultivated millet and did prepare a special beverage from honey — Priscus even uses the word medos for the Slavic med — Slavic archaeologists see in his description proof that the Slavs were present in Hungary as early as the fifth century as they slowly wended their way south where they settled in the seventh century. In 448 they were subjects of the Huns. This conclusion would seem to be confirmed by the report of a contemporary Latin historian, Jordanes (Getica, XLIX, 258). He relates that after Attila’s sudden death in 453, somewhere in Hungary, his lamenting subjects performed over his body and his tomb funeral ceremonies which ended with a kind of memorial banquet called strava. This word appears to be Slavic and signifies the old Slavic custom of holding funeral banquets which ended the burial ceremonies. Thus it sometimes happens that accounts of Byzantine envoys help solve problems which preoccupy modern historians, especially as there are very few authentic reports extant on the new nations emerging in fpr-ope in the early Middle Ages.
The most dangerous opponent of Byzantium in the East was Persia. As early as the third century the Romans had felt the growing power of the Persian Empire, at that time rejuvenated by the Sassanid dynasty. The Sassanids claimed all the territory of the old Persian Empire, and the King of Kings of new Persia became a formidable opponent of the Byzantine heirs to the Roman Caesars. Both empires claimed Armenia, the land newly converted to Christianity, and already Theodosius I had had to partition this country with the Persians (ca. 384-387). The incursion of the Huns had weakened Persia also, but during the reign of Anastasius I (491-518) the Persians pushed into Byzantine territory and attacked four important cities; among them. Amida and Nisibis fell into Persian hands. From 529 to 532 Justinian sent embassies to Chosroes I (531-579) and, finally, in 532, his four noble ambassadors were able to conclude an “eternal peace which, however, was violated by the Persians in 540 by an invasion of Syria and by the destruction of Antioch. The Byzantine part of Armenia was ravaged as well as Iberia. Lazica, another Byzantine possession on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, was occupied Justinian, engaged with the reconquest of the western provinces, had to agree to pay more tribute to the Persians. It should be recorded that, according to Menander Protector (p. 360), the third section of the treaty contains an agreement regarding commercial and diplomatic relations between the two countries. The merchants were to make their transactions only in places where customs officers were posted.
Diplomatic couriers of both states were assured of free transportation and the use of relays of the Byzantine cursus publicus and the Persian state post. At last, in 562, the able ambassador Petrus Patricius concluded a general peace with the Persians, who ceded Lazica back to Byzantium for a higher tribute.
The embassies exchanged between Sassanid Persia and Byzantium, mostly recorded by Procopius in his book on Persian wars, can be regarded as a basis upon which medieval and modern diplomacy was gradually built. Both courts followed a very precise protocol for sending and receiving embassies and respecting the international law in mutual diplomatic relations.
In this respect the description of the Byzantine embassy of 561 written by the historian Menander Protector is particularly important. Petrus had probably made a detailed report on the negotiations with the Persian representative, and Menander’s description is based on it. He quotes the contents of the letters exchanged by the two sovereigns and gives precious details on the negotiations; K. Güterbrock (pp. 57 ff.), rightly stresses the importance of this document for the history of international diplomatic relations. Petrus’s report contained important intelligence on the situation in Persia at that time and on the character of Chosroes I.
Byzantium and Persia were in dispute over a matter of economic and commercial character, important to both. Silk, the precious product of China, reached the Byzantine market only through Persia since Persia controlled the silk road from China to the Mediterranean Sea. Moreover, the sea traffic through the Indian Ocean was controlled by Persian merchants. Here the intermediary between China and India was Tabrone, the modern Ceylon. Persian merchants sailed there from the Persian Gulf and transported Chinese goods, especially silk, to Persia. The only way to obtain this precious material was by making an arrangement with the Persians. The Roman Emperor Diocletian (284-305) had come to an agreement with the Persian King Narses, in which the Persian city of Nisibis became the central market place of silk imported from China, from which center the merchandise was to be exported to the cities of the Roman Empire.
The interest which Constantius II (337-361) manifested in the Christianization of the Arabs in the Persian Gulf was not only inspired by his religious zeal but seems also to have been influenced by economic considerations. He sent Theophilus the Indian to the Himyarite King and, according to the Arian Church historian Philostorgius (II, 6; III, 4), the mission was successful. The fact that Constantius also directed a letter to King Ezana, the newly converted ruler of Ethiopia,
seems to indicate that he hoped to divert the maritime monopoly of the Persians with the help of the Ethiopians and Himyarites. Another mission sent by the Emperor Anastasius I (491-518) was more successful. A bishop was ordained and churches were built in Tapliar, Aden, and Najran. The link between this part of Arabia and Ethiopia was again evident in 525 when the Ethiopians defeated the Jewish prince of Najran who persecuted the Christians.
The idea which seems to have inspired Constantius was revived by Justinian, who renewed friendly relations with Ethiopia (Procopius, Bellum Persicum, I. 20.193). He hoped to divert, with the help of the Ethiopians, the trade from the Persian route along which silk was then brought to the East, to his newly founded and fortified port of Aila in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea. The attempt was unsuccessful, and Justinian had to content himself with the renewal of the agreement declaring Nisibis as a center from which silk imported by the Persians could be exported into the Byzantine Empire.
The Byzantines were also trying to reach China by way of their satellites Cherson, Bosporus, Lazica, and the Caucasus district. This explains why the loss of Lazica to the Persians in 540 was so painful, and why Procopius (Anecdota, 30) attacked Justinian so bitterly for neglecting to obtain information by secret agents about the movements of the Persian army, since this caused the loss of Lazica. One understands also why Justinian, in 562, preferred in the peace treaty to increase his tribute to the Persians. He wanted Lazica back.
The situation was saved by a masterly move of economic strategy reported by Procopius (Bellum Gothicum, VIII, 17.227 [ed. Loeb]; IV, 17.547 [ed. Bonn]). Two Persian monks, who had lived in China for a long time and were acquainted with the art of raising silkworms and the reeling of silk, approached Justinian and revealed to him the Chinese secret. Induced by him, they returned to China and brought back the eggs of the silkworm concealed in a hollow cane. As the Greek climate was favorable to the planting and growth of mulberry trees, the leaves of which are the only nourishment of the silkworm, the caterpillars adapted to the new environment and, in a short time, the Byzantine silk industry began to flourish. It became a state monopoly and provided a very important source of income.
The monopoly of the silk trade imposed by the Persians on their neighbors was also resented by the Tu-chüeh Turks. In 568, Silzibul (Istämi), Khagan of the western part of the Turkic Empire which stretched from Mongolia to Turkestan, sent an embassy to Justinian’s successor, Justin II (565-578), offering an alliance against the Persians.
The offer was readily accepted, as Byzantium hoped to gain a powerful ally in lier struggle with Persia, and also because there was the possibility of circumventing the Persian control of the silk road from China to the Black Sea by directing it through the land of the T’u-chüeh Turks and their Sogdian vassals. A Byzantine embassy led by Zemarchus concluded the alliance in the residence of the khagan. Menander describes in detail the route back to Byzantium taken by Zemarchus and the Turkic envoys accompanying him. His description gives valuable information on the Turkic Empire, the Sogdians, and other subjects of the T’u-chüeh Turks. When the envoys reached the territory of the Alans, their ruler received the Greeks with honor, but the Turks had first to discard their weapons before being received by the prince. Alania had been re-established by the primitive inhabitants who had been forced to accompany the Huns, but they had returned to their homeland after the destruction of the Hunnic power. The Byzantines made use of this friendly country as a very valuable advance post for information about movements in the Caucasus regions. The Alanian prince informed Zemarchus that a strong Persian military detachment was occupying the road along which the embassy intended to travel and advised him to take another route. The envoy sent only a few men along the road guarded by the Persians, and by this ruse the Byzantine and Turkic members of the embassy escaped safely. Menander’s report also contained many geographical details on the regions through which the envoys passed, details which were gladly received by the Byzantines as important intelligence on these foreign countries.
For some years embassies were exchanged between the T’u-chüeh Turks and the Byzantines, and a number of them even settled in Constantinople. However, these friendly relations did not last. The break was brought about by the Avars. As we have seen, Justinian had accepted these Mongolian tribes as foederati. It was a great mistake. The Avars became not only devastating invaders of the Balkan Byzantine provinces, but were responsible for the breach in the Turkic-Byzantine alliance. Silzibul's son, Turxanthos, to whom the Emperor Tiberius II (578-582) had sent an embassy in 578 led by Valentine, to announce the change on the Byzantine throne and to renew the alliance concluded with Silzibul, received the Byzantines with a haughty reproach for deceiving the T’u-chüeh Turks when they concluded an alliance with the Avars, archenemy of the T’u-chüeh. Again, Menander describes in detail all that happened, recording also the haughty speech of the khagan and the response of Valentine.
The Turkic-Byzantine alliance thus ended and the khagan occupied the Byzantine city of Bosporus in the Crimea. This, however, did not end all diplomatic contact between the T’u-chüeh Turks and Byzantium.
Another Turkic khagan, probably Tardu, Turxanthos’s brother, sent an embassy to the Emperor Maurice in 600. He called himself “the great ruler over seven tribes and Master over seven parts of the world.” This claim to universal rule by a foreign sovereign was unheard of in Byzantium, but the historian Theophylactus, who quotes this title, made a detailed report of the military success of the khagan, which was boastfully recalled in the letter brought by the embassy as evidence to show that the khagan's claim was based on fact. Theophylactus did so in an excursus on the “Scythian” nations in which he gives further details of the history of the Avars and of the Scythian people on the Black River, in Sogdiana and Bactria. He obtained his facts from Turkic and Byzantine ambassadors and from the T’u-chüeh Turks settled in Byzantium. This shows how eager the Byzantines were to obtain from their own or foreign embassies as much information as possible on peoples with whom they might come into contact.
Significant are the details given by Theophylactus on the defeat of the Avars by the T’u-chüeh Turks. Some nomads escaped to north China to the city of Taugast (Loyang); another group moved to the Mukri, also in northern China. Some allied tribes moved with them to the west, towards the Caucasus. Theophylactus says that they called themselves War and Huns, after the names of their two famous ancestral leaders, but that they were named Avars by the Onogurs, Sabirs, and other peoples whose territory they had approached. The refugee tribes had accepted this designation although they were not the true Avars who had been dispersed by the T'u-chüeh Turks.
After examining Theophylactus’s excursus and comparing his testimony with Chinese, Turkic, Persian, Mongol, and Byzantine sources, H. W. Haussig concludes his study with the following ap preciation: “We may have here the oldest document of the khagans which has been preserved which, completed by oral communications of envoys on the victorious deeds of the khagan and combined with other information from the same period, present a source of the utmost importance for the oldest history of the Altaic peoples."
The most important northern outpost of the empire, where information on the nations in the region between the Volga and the Dnieper and those on the Oxus could be gathered, was the city of Cherson in the Crimea which was, with its neighboring regions, under Byzantine supremacy.
It was an excellent observation post from which the strategus of Cherson and the imperial envoys could follow the movements of the numerous nomadic hordes in this waste region, thus protecting the approaches to the vital provinces of the empire. Moreover, the empire had a faithful ally in the Crimea — the Germanic Goths who had stayed there when their confederates moved westward. They were orthodox Christians and enjoyed a kind of autonomy under Byzantine supremacy. Recent excavations have shown that the Goths entertained commercial relations even with Slavic tribes in the seventh century in the region where Kiev was to be established. From Cherson and the Crimea, Byzantine missionaries could penetrate the different tribes and open diplomatic, political, and economic relations with them. Justinian used their services to convert the Tzanes on the river Phasis in Armenia, and he built them a church. The western Iberians (Georgians) also became Christians, adopting the Greek liturgy. The Abasgues were baptized as well, and the emperor also erected a church for them. Procopius (De aedificiis, III.6), when describing the places built by Justinian, mentions the foundation of forts and the building of roads among these peoples in order to protect them and to favor the development of commerce. Byzantine missions extended towards the Caucasus and, according to recent discoveries by Soviet archaeologists,. even to the region of the Don. The Christianization of the Iranian Alans went forward strongly during the ninth century and was completed in the tenth. These regions were advance posts for religious and political penetration among the Turkic Khazars who had established themselves on the delta of the Volga and who, from the seventh century on, maintained friendly relations with Byzantium. From all these centers vital intelligence was obtained for the empire. In particular, embassies sent to the Khazars were able to collect information of great value for the government. One of the most notable of these embassies was that sent by Michael III. This embassy became very famous because Constantine-Cyril and his brother Methodius, the future apostles of the Slavs, participated. It was sent in order to strengthen the alliance with the Khazars in the face of a new menace which threatened them both-the Russians, called Rhôs by the Byzantines. In about the year 840, the Rhôs had occupied the Slavic city of Kiev, then under Khazar sovereignty. In 860 a large number of them, with their primitive fleet, appeared under the walls of Constantinople, the suburbs of which had been plundered by the invaders. This embassy is described in detail in a contemporary document — the Old Slavonic Life of St. Constantine-Cyril.
We learn from it valuable information about Cherson and the nations in the Crimea. The embassy even encountered a horde of Magyars “who howled like wolves.” It is one of the first descriptions of the Magyars who were migrating from the Finnish lands to the Russian steppes between the Dnieper and the Don, from which region they were later expelled by new invaders — the Pechenegues — and forced westward. Also important is the enumeration by Constantine of the different peoples in the Crimea and in the East who were converted to Christianity and who, at that time, were celebrating the liturgy in their native tongues. This illustrated the missionary method of the Eastern Church which, as a matter of course, provided the converted peoples with holy hooks translated from the Greek into their own languages. Later Constantine-Cyril used these examples when defending himself against the Franks and the Romans, both of whom objected to his own translation of the liturgy and Gospels into Slavonic.
We read in this biography a long discussion which Constantine held with Jewish and Arab scholars at the court of the khagan. From this document we learn that the khagan of the Khazars had already accepted the Jewish faith but had allowed the Christians in his empire to profess their own belief.
Another document from the tenth century, called the Fragments of a Gothic Toparch, would give more evidence of how important these regions were in giving access to other peoples with whom the Byzantines could not communicate directly, if it were genuine. These fragments describe the cruelties which some people — probably some of the Khazar hordes — inflicted on the Goths. At the recommendation of some Russians — probably established at Tmutarakan — the toparch went in 962, accompanied by some of his Goth chiefs, to “a great ruler on the Dnieper” to ask for help. It could have been Svjatoslav of Kiev (962-972) who promised to take the Goths under his protectorship. The description of the return of this embassy from the Dnieper to the Crimea shows how useful intelligence could be gathered about the situation in the steppes between the Dnieper and the Volga, at this time a route much trodden by the new nomadic peoples. We know almost nothing about the settlement of the Rhôs on the Azov Sea, from where the toparch should have received advice to ask for help from a Russian prince on the Dnieper. The authenticity of this document is questionable. Svjatoslav was not interested in the Crimea but rather in the Bulgars on the Volga and on the Danube. There are also other details which make the authenticity of this fragment suspicious.
Intelligence as to the neighboring peoples collected by embassies, missionaries, merchants, and other means, seems to have been assembled and deposited in an office created for the purpose called scrinium barbarorum — Office for Barbarian Affairs. Its establishment can be traced to the fifth century. It appears that the functionaries of this office also watched over all foreign residents in the capital and especially took care of foreign envoys during their stay in the city. One of its officers was a curator of the palace provided for foreign envoys. Despite the lack of information on its existence and organization, it apparently functioned at least until the eleventh century.
From the fifth to the eighth century the empire lacked an administrative organ which could be called a foreign ministry. Foreign relations were still in the hands of the Master of Offices, and the Office for Barbarian Affairs seems to have developed from one of his offices. He did not have full control over the scrinium epistolarum, an office for the composition and expedition of imperial letters and decrees, nor over the officium admissionum, whose officers controlled and supervised the imperial audiences. He had no authority over the Oltice of Interpreters, which was large and of great importance in the empire’s diplomacy.
Only from 740 on was a kind of centralization of some of these services effected in the hands of the logothete of the post. He not only took over the direction of the imperial post from the Master of Offices, but also obtained control of the functioning of the Office for Barbarian Affairs. In 992 he acquired the exclusive right to search the Venetian ships, inspecting their cargoes, and of deciding the disputes of their merchants. In this way his surveillance over foreigners and merchants in the capital was considerably enhanced.
From 740 on the logothete not only took care of foreign envoys once they had reached the border of the empire, but he was also responsible for the organization of embassies to foreign countries. Although the reception of ambassadors could be arranged only by the Master of Ceremonies, who was a kind of chief of protocol, the logothete played an important role in presenting the envoys to the emperor and in the conduct of the audiences. At the same time he had at his disposal the large Office of Interpreters. Thus it happened that in the ninth century the Office of the logothete had become the most important ministerial post in the land, so important that he had free access to the emperor each morning for an official audience.
The sending and receiving of embassies was organized in a manner best fitted to obtain the most intelligence from foreigners and yet not reveal to them any weakness that existed in the administration of the empire.
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus describes in his Book of Ceremonies (Bk. 1, chs. 89. 90) the reception in the capital by Justinian of an envoy from the Persian Shah and the manner of his reception. In Book II, chapter 15, he gives us details about the journey of the ambassador to and from Constantinople and of his stay in the capital. He copied this picturesque description from the commentary of the Master of Offices, Peter. In the same chapter he describes the solemn reception of the Arab ambassadors in 946. and that of the Caliph of Cordoba in Spain.
There are other descriptions of receptions of embassies, especially from the tenth century, which give us a clear idea of the main intentions of the Byzantines on such occasions. First, the envoys were treated with the greatest courtesy. Once they had reached the borders, they were transported to Constantinople by the imperial post together with all their companions, often very numerous, were given an imposing residence in the city, and were shown all its beauties and splendors in an effort to impress and dazzle them. They were allowed to admire the height and solidity of the city walls, persuading them that such a city was invincible. They were permitted to visit the churches and to assist at solemn ceremonies. For the solemn audience, the audience chamber was decorated with gold and silver chains and candelabra, sometimes even borrowed from the churches for the occasion, and with beautiful tapestries. In order to impress the foreign visitors with the greatness and magnificence of the emperor, the Byzantines resorted to some rather childish artifices, such as a gilded tree near the throne decorated with gilded birds that chirped; gilded lions crouching at the foot of the throne that beat the ground with their tails and gave a dreadful roar with open mouths and quivering tongues, as is described by Liutprand of Cremona, envoy of King Berengar in 949; and the raising of the throne with the seated emperor high into the air by machinery to astonish the envoys. Precautions were taken to prevent the travellers from going round the city unguarded, or from seeing those things which the government preferred to keep unseen. On their travel to and from Constantinople they were accompanied by a guard of honor, thus preventing them from deviating from the imperial post route. They were provided with numerous servants and interpreters who, however, were instructed to obtain from the companions of the envoys as much information and intelligence as they could. Liutprand, during his second embassy in 962, became too curious and was thus indiscreet, and complained bitterly of the restrictions placed upon his movements.
He was snubbed without ceremony on several occasions.
Special attention was given to envoys or visitors from a new country with which the Byzantines intended to strengthen friendly relations. In 957 the Russian Princess Olga visited Constantinople, accompanied by her numerous suite and by the priest Gregory, who had instructed her in the Christian faith in Kiev. Constantine VII, her host, described in detail (De ceremoniis, Bk. II, 15) the magnificent receptions at which she took her place beside the emperor, the sumptuous banquets and all the honors with which she was distinguished. The emperor lavished gifts and presents on her and, at her baptism, was godfather. He described her solemn reception at his court in order to make known the manner in which a Byzantine court should receive a Russian prince, but ho did not speak of her baptism, for it would be assured that such a visitor in the future would already be a Christian.
What kind of impression such receptions could have made on barbarian envoys is evident from the legendary account given by the author of the Russian Primary Chronicle to Vladimir, who is said to have sent envoys to the Catholic Germans, to Muslim Bulgars, to Jewish Khazars, and to Orthodox Creeks, in order to determine which religion was the best. Upon their return from Greece the envoys are said to have declared:
“The Creeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations.”
Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus knew well how important it was for the empire to be represented by good ambassadors and to treat foreign envoys with magnanimity. He left in his Book of Ceremonies several descriptions of the receptions of prominent envoys so as to leave his imperial successors a clear example of the procedure on such occasions; in order to give good example and advice to luture Byzantine envoys, he also compiled a Book on Embassies, containing excerpts from historical narratives on especially significant embassies sent from the imperial court to foreign peoples, and of embassies sent from them to the Romans and Byzantines.
There is, however, another work by Porphyrogenitus which illustrates more than anything else the importance the Byzantines attached to the collection of intelligence on foreign peoples and how they utilized it in the administration of state affairs.
It is the book called De administrando imperio (On the Administration of the Empire) in which the emperor gives lessons to his son Romanus II on how to deal with foreign peoples and how to make use of the information assembled by his predecessors.
He was, of course, interested above all in the nations with which the empire was dealing during his reign. Therefore the first chapters are devoted to the Turkic Pechenegues dwelling in the steppes of southern Russia, to the Turcs (Magyars), and to the Rhôs of Kiev. He stressed the importance of maintaining good relations with the Pechenegues because they could harass the Magyars whom they had pushed out of the steppes, and because they could prevent the Rhôs from reaching the sea from which they could attack Constantinople. They could also be a danger to the empire if they chose to invade imperial possessions in the Crimea.
Therefore Constantine recommends that every year imperial agents be sent to them with presents in order to conclude and renew treaties of friendship. The envoys could travel to their territory from Cherson or by warship, taking the route north of the Danube delta, on the Dniester or Dnieper.
Imperial agents had thus numerous opportunities of obtaining intelligence on the situation among the Pechenegues. Their history and a detailed description of their country is related in chapter 37. All these facts, especially the full account of their different clans and political organization, could come only from Pechenegue sources. They are based on the reports of the Byzantine envoys, on the records of the Chersonites with whom the Pechenegues entertained lively commercial relations, and on the description of Pechenegue hostages who were detained, according to Constantine, both at Cherson and at Constantinople.
The information about the Turcs (Magyars) contained in chapters 38-40 is derived from the accounts of Byzantine envoys who had visited their capital. The first of these embassies to the Hungarian chiefs was sent in 894. The emperor speaks of one embassy in particular led by the cleric Gabriel, sent most probably after 927, when Byzantium was at peace with Bulgaria. The envoy is said to have asked the Magyars to expel the Pechenegues Irom the steppes and to settle down in their country where imperial agents and warships could reach them more easily. The Magyars, however, refused to attack the Pechenegues, remembering their disastrous defeat of 889. This story illustrates the intrigues of Byzantine diplomacy. To them an alliance with the Magyars seemed more trustworthy than with the Pechenegues.
Exchange of embassies with the Magyars must have been frequent, and Constantine himself says that the great-grandson of Arpad had visited the capital. All this important intelligence must have been gathered at the imperial court from Hungarian sources. The fact that Constantine gives the Slavic title voivode to their first ruler in Lebedia does not necessarily mean that some of his informants were Slavs. The Magyars, at that time, must have called themselves Turcs, because Constantine knows only this designation. Also, Constantine’s information, namely that the Magyars after their defeat occupied their new seats at the instigation of the Bulgarian ruler Symeon, must be based on a Hungarian source, although this intervention of Symeon is not mentioned by any other source. Unfortunately, Constantine gives no details as to how the Magyars, together with their allies the Kabaroi (Kabars), who were probably a Turkic tribe, conquered their new country. When describing the new land of the Magyars, he seems to place Creat Moravia in the south-a passage in the manuscript which has been a headache to historians and which has been explained in various ways. However, it seems that the text in chapter 13 is corrupt and that one phrase is missing. In the original it seems to read
“on the south side is Croatia. There existed once Great Moravia, the country of Sphendoplokos [Svatopluk), which has now been totally devastated by these Turks, and occupied by them.”
In any case, this indicates that the Byzantines had discovered no details about the conquest of Great Moravia and had had little contact with that country immediately before its occupation by the Magyars. They were, however, in touch with the greatest of Moravian rulers, Svatopluk. The Old Slavonic Life of St. Methodius speaks of the invitation addressed by Emperor Basil I to Methodius, Archbishop of Moravia, to visit him and his native land. This invitation may have been given on the initiative of the Patriarch Photius who had known both Methodius and his deceased brother, Constantine-Cyril. Methodius probably went to Byzantium in 882, and was certainly accompanied by some nobles from Svatopluk’s court. The biographer reports that the emperor and the patriarch received Methodius “with great honors and joy” and that the emperor, “having given him many gilts, brought him splendidly on his way unto his see. We gather from this account that in 882 there was an exchange of embassies between Great Moravia and Byzantium, which would explain the interest of the imperial writer in Svatopluk. It is possible that there was a record of these embassies in the archives of the logothete, but Porphyrogenitus was uninterested because at the time of his writing Great Moravia no longer existed.
This was the last contact the empire had with that country, and only vague information about the reasons for its fall had reached Byzantium through the conquerors.
This is reflected in Constantine’s narrative in chapter 41. There he says that Svatopluk exhorted his three sons to live in peace together, showing them three wands which could not be broken when bound together, but when separated could be broken easily. This is, of course, a legendary tale based on Aesop’s fable 103, recorded also by Plutarch in his Sayings of Kings (174) and attributed to Scilurus, King of the Scythians. Constantine inserted this story into his narrative as a lesson to his own son.
After mentioning the importance for Byzantium of harmonious relations with the Pechenegues because their land separated the Rhôs from the sea, Constantine inserted into his composition a special chapter (9) “On the coming of the Russians in ‘monoxyla’ from Russia to Constantinople.” This insert seems to be out of place in the first section of Constantine’s book, but it is, however, the more welcome as Constantine here gives, besides an impressive topographical account of the trade route from Kiev to Constantinople, information which is essential for the reconstruction of the early history of the Kievan state, and on the relations of the Rhôs with the Slavic tribes living between the Dniester, the Dnieper, and as tar as the Volga. A great number of commentaries on this chapter have been written by historians of the Kievan state. We are interested here only in recording whence came all this precious intelligence of political, topographical, archaeological, and commercial character.
It is clear that the chapter is not an original work of the imperial writer. He must have found it in the archives of the logothete and copied it with very slight additions. The vividness of the description of the route with allusions to places in Byzantium with which the length of the Dnieper rapids are compared, suggests that the author of this report was personally acquainted with the dangerous journey and that he was a Byzantine Since Igor of Kiev is mentioned as living — he died in 944 — we are entitled to think that the author of this description was a member of a Byzantine embassy sent to Igor in 944 to conclude a treaty with the ruler of Kiev.
But by what means was the member of the embassy able to collect all this information? The answer to this question will also show us the method by which Byzantine envoys obtained all the intelligence they needed.
First of all, there is one detail that could have been obtained only in Kiev at the court of Igor, namely, that Svjatoslav was ruler of Novgorod. This probably means that the young son of Igor resided in Novgorod as his father s representative. No other historical source mentions this fact; we do know, however, that the Kievan rulers of the tenth century used to appoint their sons as rulers of Novgorod.
It is true that the Byzantines could have obtained information concerning the route across the Dnieper to the Black Sea from Russian merchants living in the capital in the quarter of St. Mammas where they stayed during their commercial transactions. The exactitude with which the names of the cities, in this area are given, and, in particular, the name of the Dnieper rapids, seems to indicate that the envoy was accompanied on his journey down the river by a member of the prince’s retinue familiar with the manner in which the Kievan merchants prepared and carried out their yearly expeditions to Byzantium. Because he gave the envoy the names of the rapids in the old Swedish and Slavic languages, he must have lived for some time in Kiev where both tongues were used. This shows us, at the same time, that the original Rhôs, although of Swedish extraction, were already under a strong Slavic influence. The son of Igor had been given a Slavic name, that of Svjatoslav. It is to be observed also that in the Greek transliteration of the name Igor, the Scandinavian nasal consonant is retained in the document, thus Ingor, which again reveals that the man who gave this information to the envoys was a Scandinavian.
There is also in this chapter information about the tribute collected by the Rhôs during the winter from their Slavic subjects, which intelligence must have been given to the envoys by a Slavic subject of the Rhôs who accompanied them to Constantinople and who knew a little Greek.
Those Slavs who had occupied Dalmatia and Illyricum deserved a special study by Constantine and he deals with them in chapters 29 to 36, starting with the history of Dalmatia before their arrival. His incomplete and short narrative is interrupted by an insertion giving the Byzantine version of the liberation of Bari, in Italy, from the Arabs. The role of Basil I in the defeat of the Arabs besieging Ragusa and in the Christianization of those Slavs is particularly stressed. He must have possessed detailed information especially on and from Ragusa, since he gives the names of Roman nobles who were the first settlers in Ragusa after the destruction of Epidaurus by the Slavs. He completes the history of the Croats in chapter 31, where he discusses the origin and migration of the Croats.
This information could only have been taken from the archives of the Emperor Heraclius, for it was Heraclius who asked the Croats to defeat the Avars in Dalmatia and to settle there in their stead. He also “brought priests from Rome, and made of them an archbishop and a bishop and elders and deacons, and baptized the Croats.” Then Constantine’s narrative follows the history of the Croats to the death of King Miroslav in 949. This information could have been found easily in the imperial archives, because the Croats were, at least nominally, Byzantine subjects.
The “Story of the Province of Dalmatia” contained in chapter 30 presents a problem. We learn from this narrative details which are omitted in his Croat history. First of all, the Croats came from White Croatia, which should be placed in modern Galicia. White Croatians were still living there and were under the sovereignty of Otto I. From these Croats five brothers and two sisters, whose names are not Slavic but rather Sarmatian, came with their tribes to Dalmatia and, after a prolonged war, defeated the Avars whom they chased from Illyricum and Pannonia as well. The Franks conquered the Croats, but the latter defeated them and became independent. Their Christianization by Rome is also mentioned, as is the division of their country into eleven provinces.
It seems clear that this chapter is a kind of insertion into the account of the Croats and Serbs. One has the impression that the emperor, when intending to write the history of the Croats, had asked for additional information about their settlement in Dalmatia. For some reason he omitted to edit his narrative and simply copied the additional information as he received it, which he must have obtained from the Dalmatian thema, probably, however, not from Zara, the seat of the stratege, but rather from Spalato. This is suggested by the story of the capture of Salona by the Avars; it is a little different from that related in chapter 29, and thus may be based on local tradition preserved in Spalato. Moreover, this report pays more attention to the central part of the coast of Croatia and its immediate interior nearer to Spalato. A reporter from Zara would not have neglected the territory of northwestern Croatia in his account of the administrative division of Croatia.
The reliability of this account of the ancient history of the Croats has been doubted by modern historians, but more thorough research has shown that, in spite of some confusion, Constantine’s reports are correct. The Sarmatian origin of the White Croats is now generally accepted, and the role of Heraclius in the migration of a great part of the Slavicized White Croats to Dalmatia should not be doubted.
The invitation to settle in Dalmatia was sent to the White Croats about the year 626 when Constantinople was besieged by the Avars and Slavs. It seems today also to be established that Heraclius, in accord with Rome, had initiated the Christianization of the new inhabitants of Dalmatia by the establishment of a hierarchy in Spalato.
What Constantine says in chapter 32 on the origins of the Serbs and their migration to the Byzantine territory is again taken from the archives preserved from the reign of Heraclius. Originally the Serbs were also a Sarmatian tribe. They fled, with the Croats, from the Hunnic onslaught to beyond the Carpathian Mountains and settled down in modern Saxony among the Slavic population. They mixed with this population, eventually forming the military and governing class. Constantine calls this country White Serbia. The Serbs were settled definitely by Heraclius in lands south of Belgrad in the country called Raška, from where they extended their supremacy over other Slavic tribes near the sea. These tribes are still differentiated by Constantine and called by their tribal names, but with time they had accepted the name of their master and called themselves Serbs. The first attempt at their Christianization was made by Heraclius, but their conversion to Christianity did not come about until the reign of Basil I. Constantine’s description of the early history of the Serbs – an important contribution to the history of the Balkans — must have been taken from a lost Serbian chronicle, the content of which was translated for Constantine by a native, or by an interpreter.
The geographical and historical details given by Constantine about the lands of other Slavic tribes are quite reliable. All this intelligence reached the capital through diplomatic and commercial channels. Especially interesting is the information on the family of the Prince of the Zachlumi, Michael, who was raised to the Byzantine dignity of proconsul and patrician. His family came from the land of the Vislamians and was therefore of Polish origin. Thus we know that one Polish tribe had joined the White Croats on their migration to Byzantine lands and had settled at the foot of the Chlum mountain, and the name of the new immigrants was Zachlumians.
As concerns other former provinces of Byzantium, Constantine was naturally interested first of all in northern Italy, in an area called Lombardy after its Germanic conquerors. In chapter 26 he gives a summary of the history of the Italian kingdom from 869 to 944, showing at the same time that his daughter-in-law Berta, daughter of Hugh of Arles, was descended trom Charles the Great.
The sources of his narrative must have been the reports of the numerous embassies between Byzantium and the Franks, together with spoken testimonies, especially that of Liutprand, with whom Constantine held a conversation in 949, and perhaps from Berta herself. Constantine s errors in the description of this genealogy should be explained by the inaccuracy of verbal testimony.
His description of the history of Lombardy (ch. 27) is also lacking in accuracy on many points. It is rather a collection of material taken from Lombard, Capuan, and Beneventan sources, often colored by Byzantine political interest, which the emperor intended to use for his chapter on Italy in his projected book, “On Nations.” His description of the early history of Venice reflects Venetian native traditions.
Constantine also collected material on Spain and intended to write a geographical and historical section on Saracen Spain, but probably never had a chance to fulfill his plan. This is to be regretted because, between 946 and 952, cultural and political embassies were exchanged between Cordoba and Byzantium, and the reports of the envoys kept in the bureau of the logothete probably contained details which would have enriched our knowledge of Saracen Spanish history.
More systematic are chapters 43-46, dealing with the Armenian and Georgian princes and their vassals on the northeast frontier of the empire in Asia. This section was written in 952 with a purely diplomatic purpose — to instruct his son as to the policy to be followed with these nations in the future. It is evident that Constantine was drawing his information from the numerous records of the Byzantine chancery, from the reports of envoys sent to the princes who were regarded as Byzantine allies, or subjects, and from Armenian and Georgian reports. All the details given by him on these countries are trustworthy and constitute an important source for the history of Armenia and Georgia.
It thus seems evident that most of the intelligence on foreign nations given by Constantine VII is based on the diplomatic reports of Byzantine envoys and of ambassadors sent by foreign rulers to the emperors. These important documents were kept in the imperial archives, first in the scrinium barbarorum and then with the logothete of the post. The emperor’s work is unique in many respects. It shows, for example, that the Byzantines kept state archives in which all important documents were collected. His book is also the first attempt at the writing of diplomatic history, thus inaugurating a new genre of historical literature.
We must be grateful to him for having preserved the information taken from so many documents in the archives which would otherwise have been lost. However, we must confess that it would have been better if the imperial writer had fulfilled his original plan of writing the book. "On Nations,” and had not used the material he had collected solely for the instruction of his son. This change in his first plan explains some of the incoherence and inexactitude of his material. More editing would have eliminated, or, at least, lessened these inadequacies.
CHAPTER III: BIBLIOGRAPHY
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