their divergences and alternative affinities too pronounced for the concept of a Byzantine Commonwealth as formulated by Obolensky to have force.107 As we have seen, the prevailing assumption of imperial policy after 1261 was that effective military aid was best had from the west, even at the price of tampering with religious doctrine: Orthodox rulers were generally deemed too remote, indifferent, or barbarous and unruly to be effectual. Alternatively, as in the case of the Serbs, especially Stefan Dusan, they were all too close, and viewed as prospective conquerors. Yet the Serbs also serve as crown witnesses to the operations of some kind of 'force field' for which the term commonwealth is not so malapropos. Members of this ruling elite and pious individuals showed enthusiasm for acquiring texts about, and encountering living exponents of, correct religious doctrine and best practice in church and monastic affairs. In a sense, they were merely joining in the textual community of Orthodox Slavs. Serbian princes appropriated Byzantine political institutions and culture, not merely because they had seized extensive Byzantine territories, but also because they recognised inherent merit in law-codes supposedly issued by pious emperors such as Justinian. A highly ambitious ruler, Stefan Dusan for example, operating from a position of military strength, could have himself crowned 'emperor' by a newly instituted patriarch and expressly place his law-code in the tradition of earlier emperors. But he seems to have baulked at trying to seize Constantinople for himself by force. He had to reckon with the inhibitions of his own churchmen and likely protests from at least some of the monks of Athos whose prayers he valued. But what may have weighed most heavily with him was risk of giving offence to the City's supernatural protectors: he was, as a student of history, well aware of their impressive record to date in shielding the City.
If self-interest counselled caution to Dusan, leaders of Orthodox structures further away from Constantinople also had to handle with care this model of Christian order under ancient imperial tutelage. So long as an unimpeachably Orthodox emperor reigned in Constantinople, no other Orthodox rulers could afford overtly to disengage from, ignore or claim exclusive proprietorship of that ideal, even if the basileus had no direct impact on their own regime. Besides, the ideal had support, even within the remoter recesses of their own polities, as the example of Sergii of Radonezh demonstrates. The overlords of extensive territories with undersized administrations needed the cooperation and prayers ofsuch figures, while their populations' predisposition in favour of
107 C. Raffensperger, 'Revisiting the idea of the Byzantine Commonwealth', BF 28 (2004), 164-8,172-4.
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