Apogee and Collapse: the Waning of East Rome

  • John Haldon


The traditional view of the later tenth century and the reign of Basil II is that of a Golden Age, in which the empire attained the height of its power. In terms of international esteem and territorial extent this is not incorrect, but the result is that the reigns of Basil IPs successors are inevitably compared unfavourably with what went before. Basil left no children and was succeeded by his brother Constantine VIII, who ruled just three years alone before he too died. Constantine’s elder daughter Zoe now determined who should become emperor according to whom she married. In the period from 1028 until 1042 she had in succession three husbands who became emperor through her: Romanos III Argyros (1028–1034), Michael IV ‘the Paphlagonian’ (1034–1041) and Constantine IX Monomachos (1042–1055). The predominantly civilian power elite at Constantinople took the stability achieved by the end of Basil IPs reign for granted, and proceeded to a radical reduction of the standing army and frontier militias – in order to limit the power and ambition of the provincial ‘military’ elite. In doing so, however, they did not, and perhaps could not, take into account changing circumstances outside the empire. The military elite were just as concerned with their own position within the empire and their relations with the governing clique and the emperors. Provincial rebellions in Bulgaria in the 1030s and 1040s, a result of misguided fiscal policies as well as political oppression, foreshadowed greater problems. The arrival on the Balkan frontiers of the Pechenegs, a Turkic steppe people, at about the same time, and their first incursions into imperial territory, similarly should have alerted the emperors and their advisers. The rebellion in 1042–1043 led by George Maniakes, commander of the imperial forces in Sicily, was cut short by the death of its leader, but nevertheless indicated that there was considerable unrest and discontent among leading elements of the elite. The brief reign of the Emperor Isaac I Komnenos (1057–1059), a soldier of the Anatolian military clans, indicated the direction of change. And although the empire continued to expand its frontiers in the Caucasus, efforts to re-establish imperial control in Sicily and southern Italy failed, so that by the early 1070s the empire had lost its last foothold there to the dynamic Normans.


Western Power Imperial Court Byzantine Empire John Versus Turkish Territory 
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© John Haldon 2005

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  • John Haldon

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